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A CurtainUp DC Review
Yellow Face

"It doesn't matter what someone looks like on the outside,"—” David Henry Hwang about racism.
Yellow Face
Stan Kang plays David Henry Hwang at Theater J.(Photo credit: C. Stanley Photography)
The protagonist in Chinese-American playwright David Henry Hwang's play Yellow Face is David Henry Hwang. Narcissistic? Yes, but that's not the point.

Hwang, who won a Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics and John Gassner Awards for his 1988 Broadway debut, M. Butterfly, is well-positioned to comment on racism, the theme of Yellow Face. He was the front man for Chinese-Americans who protested the casting of Jonathan Pryce in Miss Saigon on Broadway. That incident serves as Yellow Face's starting point, an examination of not casting an Asian in the role of an Asian. Hwang first took that experience and wrote about it in Face Value, but that play that flopped in previews.

Yellow Face references those experiences but goes deeper in exploring attitudes towards race, prejudice within a race and the constant of stereotyping. All sides of these issues are examined with sensitivity and gravitas. Conflicts between characters within the theatrical context and, most amusingly, between Hwang and his father, are rife with anger.

Hwang brings into this tense environment many sides of the Chinese-American experience from his father, a hard-working successful banker who becomes disillusioned with his adopted country to tough-talking comedian Margaret Cho. Show biz royalty such as Cameron Mackintosh and Bernie Jacobs make appearances as do political figures Senator John Kerry, Senator Bob Bennett and an FBI agent called Name Withheld on Advice of Counsel. The most moving scene is the sad story of Wen Ho Lee's unwarranted imprisonment.

If this sounds like a lot of characters — I lost count at 50 — it is. But the almost perfect cast of eight handle their diverse roles very effectively with color and gender blind casting as men play women, women play men, straight/gay, black/white, the juxtapositions are numerous.

It's a very clever way for the author to make his points. In fact cleverness permeates this production thanks to Natsu Onoda Power's superb direction. She's local and DC is lucky to have her here as she continues to make her mark as an Assistant Professor of Theater at Georgetown University and director/designer of productions at several theaters in town.

Luciana Stecconi's very effective set is made up of file drawers piled one on top of another. It serves as a neutral backdrop for Jared Mezzocchi's projections featuring photographs of the names mentioned.

Al Twanmo who plays Hwang's father deserves an extra round of applause as he performs from a wheel chair having hurt himself in a fall on the ice. His deathbed scene is very emotional as are his attempts to bring his son into line with his thinking. Stan Kang as David Henry Hwang admirably balances the anger, convictions, frustrations and the humor his part calls for.

This play is typical of Theater J's programming as it has plenty of ideas to nosh on after the show.

To read reviews (also positive) of earlier productions of Yellow Face go here . And if you're in New York, look for Curtainup;s review of Mr. Hwang's new play Kung Fu, opening at the Pershing Square Signature Center Off-Broadway later this month.
Yellow Face By David Henry Hwang
Directed by Natsu Onoda Power
Scenic Design by Luciana Stecconi
Lighting Design by Dan Covey
Costume Design by Debra Kim Sivigny
Projections Design by Jared Mezzocchi

Cast: Stan Kang (David Henry Hwang); Brandon McCoy (Name Withheld on Advice of Counsel; Cameron Mackintosh; Ed Koch; Stuart Ostrow; William Craver; Rafael Untalan (Marcus G. Dahlman (aka Marcus Gee); Sue Jin Song (Lily Tomlin; Carla CFhang; Kim; Casting Assistant; Gish Jen; Beatrice Chang; Dorothy Hwang; Al Twanmo (Bernard Jacobs; Henry Hwang; Student #2; Wen Ho Lee); Mark Hairston (Senator John Kerry; George F. Will; Dick Cavett; Theatreweek; Miles Newman; Anthony Agoglia; Student #4; Don Mihail; Fritz Friedman; Yellowgurl8; Rocco Palmieri; FBI agent; Dr. Pichorak); Jacob Yeh (BD Wong; Joe Papp; Rodney Hatamiya; Mark Linn-Baker; Michael Riedel; Student #3; Margaret Cho; Senator Bob Bennett; Senator Richard Shelby; Senator Jack Kingston); Tonya Beckman (Frank Chin; Vinnie Liff; Frank Rich; Pravda; Linda; Jane Krakowski; Student #1; Margaret Fung; Julia Dahlman; Senator Thompson; Senator Brownback; Representative Tom Delay; Judge Parker.)

Running time: 140 minutes with one intermission.

Theater J, 1529 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC;; tickets $25 to $65, with discounts for seniors and military; 800-494-8497; January 29 through February 23, 2014.

Review by Susan Davidson based on February 9, 2014 matinee performance.

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