Randy Reyes, left, and Matt Rein in the Mu production of Yellow Face. (Photo by Stephen Geffre)
By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (January 29, 2010) – The timing of Yellow Face – a play written by Tony Award winning playwright David Henry Hwang – is just right given the coming theater season, according to Rick Shiomi, artistic director of Mu Performing Arts. Mu and the Guthrie Theater are presenting the David Henry Hwang play, directed Shiomi in the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio from February 4 – 21, 2010.
It takes a comedy with purpose to deal with a sore topic that has haunted the mainstream theater productions for years: the casting – or miscasting of actors in ethnic specific roles and the professional and cultural misunderstandings that linger.
Shiomi calls Yellow Face a very insightful and entertaining play that not only showcases Hwang’s trademark whit and humor, but brings questions posed home with heart and humanity. He said the play is full of the humor, ironic twists and an ability to take a multifaceted exploration or to controversy from many angles.
“The underlying understanding of the play is the long history of Caucasians cast as Asians in character roles,” said Shiomi. “There is a lot of humor in the play, but it still makes people think about the situation, which I believe is what David’s intention is – not necessarily to convert people to one or the other cause – but more to have them think about the issue.”
According to Shiomi the play asks, “What is Asian America today? How do we view it from the Asian American point of view but how is it being viewed from the larger societal view?”
Whenever Mu Performing Arts works with David Henry Hwang, the process is a great for several reasons, said Shiomi. Many people look at Hwang as an intellectual with sophisticated whit and humor, what he said some people call a clever, facile writer.
What some people miss is that Hwang has tremendous heart his stories, he said, noting that Yellow Face is a critique of social values and ideas but at its very essence is a play full of heart. He said Mu’s 2009 production of Hwang’s “Flower Drum Song” at the Ordway is another example.
“What I discovered in that play was (Hwang’s) tremendous heart,” he said. “If you get that right then everything else in the production works from there.”
In Yellow Face, Shiomi said that a key point of the story is the unintentional miscasting of a Caucasian actor for an Asian American role. It is a chance to sides of an issue from the point of view of both Asian and non-Asian characters. It is also a way to address sore issues in theater with brevity but also heart, he said.
“There is a lot of fun to be had when you start inverting situations like that and try to look at them from both sides,” said Shiomi. “It is very funny because there is a lot of reversals in the play, in a sense so that you see what appears to be a familiar situation in a different context.”
The play offers a earning process of how complex the issues are for both non-Asian and Asians involved, he added.
“What is the reality that is going to be possible on the ground? What is the future for us? Because even at the end of the play the playwright rather than proposing a solution, he is posing a question.”
An excellent script in only one part of the production and Shiomi said it took a good cast to follow, and even there it is a discovery process begins of director and actors. He likened it to chipping away at a block of marble that is the script. If it becomes a beautiful sculpture – or play – “you are lucky,” he adds. If not, then its “back to another block of marble.”
The play centers on actors Randy Reyes as DHH, and Matt Rein as Marcus G. Dahlman. Kurt Kwan plays the father and the cast is rounded out with Mu Manager Don Eitel making a debut as Cameron Mackintosh, Erika Crane, Kim Kivens, Allen Malicsi, Rose Tran and Wade Vaughn.
“They are all good local actors,” said Shiomi.
Shiomi said that the play should resonate with audiences, wherever they are in the wide Asian and Pacific Islander spectrum of cultures and backgrounds. It should help anyone at least think about what goes on in the play and better see where they stand on things.
Shiomi said that having Yellow Face at the Dowling in collaboration with Guthrie is a great opportunity raises Mu’s profile. It is also important for the Guthrie open its base to a broader more diverse world.
“I think all of those things are important,” he added.
Although Yellow Face has been staged in New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere around the country, and that it is basically the same script, Shiomi said the Minneapolis patrons should enjoy the “Thrust Theater” experience with the audience on three sides of the stage as opposed to the presidium stage with audience at the front.
“It changes a lot of the dynamics for the production so that people seeing it in the thrust seating get a different take on it with a way more intimate and achieves a verisimilitude that might be more lacking using a presidium approach,” he added.
The Guthrie Theater – Dowling Studio is located at 818 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis. Tickets are $18 – $34 and online at www.guthrietheater.org or call 612-377-2224.