The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings
A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
OK, these are actually the conundrums that bedevil both the playwright David Henry Hwang and "DHH," the semi-autobiographical character at the center of Hwang's 2007 play Yellow Face. The dustup over the casting of Jonathan Pryce in Miss Saigon went down in 1991, and the producers didn't make the same mistake when they brought the play back to Broadway in 2017. Here in 2018, some of the cultural touchpoints of Yellow Face may feel a bit musty (the Saigon flap most notably). But colorblind casting and questions of appropriation and agency continue to raise hackles. Indeed, if his recent world premiere Soft Power at the Ahmanson is any indication, Hwang is still traversing the same twisty road that will never lead him to an answer.
Hwang began that trek with Yellow Face, which has been remounted by the Firescape Theatre,, first in San Francisco and now at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. Even moderately successful revivals of Hwang works are decidedly a good thing, although coming so soon on the heels of the splashier and far superior Soft Power may be an instance of bad timing.
Robert Zimmerman's occasionally funny and frill-free production occasionally feels more like a semi-staged reading than a full meal. His six-person cast treats Hwang's script somewhere between farce and deadly serious drama.
The play is a partially fictionalized recounting of several events in the playwright's life. The success of his Tony-winning M. Butterfly gives DHH some celebrity clout to go with his cultural cache, turning him briefly into a crusader on behalf of Asian- Americans and their depictions in popular media. But the flop of Hwang's subsequent Broadway effort, Face Value, not only causes DHH (played by Jeffrey Sun) to lose his wattage, it bumps him up against Marcus Gee (Roman Moretti), a former Face Value cast member who DHH tries to pass off as Asian. Eventually fired from Hwang's play, Marcus goes on to make a career for himself playing Asians, and &emdash; irony of ironies &emdash; becomes the cultural bell-ringer that DHH formerly was.
DHH's circle also includes agents, Asian-American advocacy organizations, producers, protestors, scheming journalists, and ex-girlfriends. Holding the greatest influence of all is DHH's father, Henry (Alfonso Faustino) an immigrant who became a successful international banker and who can't really understand why his son is so troubled by all this Marcus Gee fallout.
For the bulk of the play, DHH isn't a particularly likeable character, and the actor playing him can't really get over that textual hurdle. Sun taps into the character's narcissism and adds a certain whininess and passivity to DHH. We're waiting for an absolute nuclear eruption at Marcus, at fate, at unfairness, even at his own stupidity. Sun's DHH can't really take us there. Moretti is more effective as Marcus. Playing this pretty boy devoid of swagger and smugness, Moretti offers up the most dangerous version of a Frankenstein's monster: a man who pays attention and thinks about what he sees. And the character is charismatic and good- looking to boot.
Solid work is also supplied by Dennis Nollette (playing a bunch of people from the theatrical world) and Faustino who nails both Henry Hwang's droll humor and, when things turn darker, the character's pathos. He ends up being Yellow Face's most interesting and, yes, most conflicted character. With every new nuance he serves up, Faustino makes us wish that the playwright had written a work solely about his father. Given Hwang's penchant for autobiography, perhaps that play is on the way.
Although the company is working in a versatile and well-used performance space, Yellow Face's production values are threadbare to the point of being non-existent. A cart with a phone and answering machine is the only prop, and the production is without a credited scenic, lighting, sound or costume designer.
A production this spare certainly makes it easier to focus on the themes and any surrounding debate over cultural values. It's practically a guarantee that Hwang &emdash; or some onstage representation of the playwright &emdash; will be back in a future work to continue the discussion.
Search CurtainUp in the box below
Yellow Face By David Henry Hwang
Directed by Robert Zimmerman
Cast: Jeffrey Sun, Roman Moretti, John Pendergast, Jennifer Vo Le, Alfonso Faustino, Dennis Nollette, Lisagaye Tomlinson
Plays through September 26, 2018 at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd. Beverly Hills, www.plays411.com
Running time: Two hours with one intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):
Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.
For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted at http://curtainupnewlinks.blogspot.com to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter