|L - R Jeffrey Sun and Alfonso Faustino -Photographs by Megumi Smisson|
By Joe Straw
…I was an immigrant. Once you’re an immigrant you’re always an immigrant… – Yo-Yo Ma - Yo-Yo Ma, A Life Led With Bach -NPR Tiny Desk Concert by Mary Louise Kelly, Tom Huizenga
The words spoken in that conversation are wonderfully appealing. It touches an emotional chord in me that is profound and one that replenishes the human spirit. - Narrator
Firescape Theatre in Association with The Beverly Hills Playhouse present Yellow Face written by David Henry Hwang, directed by Robert Zimmerman and Produced by Victoria Ma through September 26, 2018.
The stage, on this night, is essentially bare with the exception of nine seats, a telephone table, and two scaffoldings upstage right and left with enough room for each character to disappear upstage and come back to their seats as a completely different character.
With the exceptions of DHH (Jeffrey Sun) and Marcus G. Dahlman (Roman Moretti) the other players play multiple roles to great satisfaction.
Marcus begins the play with an email to David Henry Hwang (DHH), an actor he has briefly known, about his time in China, a bonding of sorts with his Asian brothers and sisters. And that charade is what angers DHH who still carries his anger on his sleeves and in his pen concerning his relationship with Marcus.
“That was the first of Marcus’s e-mails to me. More than a few Asian Americans still wonder what happened to him.” – DHH
(Ouch. Not even a backhanded compliment.)
Still angry DHH says Marcus was a footnote in Asian theatre. “Blink and you would’ve missed it.” (Still with the digs.)
“As for my own role in the story, some Asian Americans noticed, but they chose to forgive me for my mistakes.” – DHH
(During the course of the play The Announcer (John Pendergast) introduces the cast of character when called upon.)
“Playwright Frank Chin:” – Announcer
“David Henry Hwang is a white racist asshole.” – Frank Chin
Okay, so DHH is not beloved by all Americans as he takes his lumps and moves on, but he never forgets.
After his success on Broadway, and a Tony Award, for M. Butterfly DHH is at the pinnacle of his career. In his acceptance speech he lets it be known that it will be a new day in America for Asian actors.
And just when the thought that all was well in American theatre BD Wong (Alfonso Faustino) calls DHH to tell him that Miss Saigon is coming to American with actor Jonathan Pryce, an Anglo, in the leading Asian role and that he must do something about it.
But DHH is not so sure that Jonathan Pryce isn’t Asian or a mixture thereof.
“You’re sure the actor’s white? Maybe he’s mixed race.” – DHH
(DHH can be so dense.)
“David, it’s Jonathan Pryce.” - BD
BD enlists DHH to write a letter to Actors’ Equity to protest the casting of Pryce in the New York version of Miss Saigon to which the participants from both side of the pond raise their voices in protest, Cameron MacKintosh (Dennis Nollette), the producer, Bernard Jacobs, the President of The Shubert Theatres, and Actors’ Equity.
Alas, DHH has done his part and seems satisfied until he gets a call from Carla Chang (Jennifer Vo Le) at Actors’ Equity who wants him down at Actors’ Equity to protest. But, DHH has given up this fight and Actors’ Equity reverses its decision and allows Pryce to play the Eurasian The Engineer a.k.a. Tran Van Dinh.
One battle lost.
More on the way when DHH’s father calls HYH (Alfonso Faustino) a banker who sees nothing of the controversy other than his son getting his name in the papers. But the next time he’s in New York he wants to get tickets to Miss Saigon. HYH also suggest he should not write about Rudyard Kipling but something more in line with his personal knowledge.
DHH is suddenly inspired by the debacle of Miss Saigon and writes the farce Face Value.
“It’s a backstage farce about a musical in which the lead actor is a Caucasian playing an Asian. On opening night, two Asian American protesters sneak in to disrupt the show – dressed in white face.” – DHH
|Roman Moretti and Alfonso Faustino|
Unfortunately, and here’s the funny part, they can’t find an Asian for the role. BD is out because DHH wants a fresh new Asian face. (And he’s not looking for John Lone either.) And after auditioning Rodney Hatamiya (Alfonso Faustino) they find Marcus who’s looks are ambiguously deceiving.
Robert Zimmerman does an outstanding job in bringing Yellow Face to Los Angeles. Playfully iniquitous in the way humans move to achieve their rightful positions in life. Yet, it is a difficult and demanding presentation where limited rehearsals must bring out multiple characters for the six actors in the other roles. Finding a significant through line would be the ultimate test for any director. But, overall the actors succeed nicely. Well, mostly, still one has observations.
David Henry Hwang’s play seems like two or three different plays without a significant spine that ties it all together. In its separate parts the play takes on the three phases of life. One part is the fantasy of a theatrical life. The other is the madness of the theatrical life and the participants. And the last part is about the harsh theatrical realities of real life and death. Broken down, the play is about Miss Saigon, the other part is about the play Face Value, and the other is about the relationship between DHH, his father HYH, and the banking crisis. Time, identity, and forgiveness seem to be the lessons we learn in this play. But, how does that translate in action? And, how are those actions manifested to give it a grand through line?
Jeffry Sun (DHH) gives us some pleasurable moments. In the opening moments he was still angered by the email, after all those years, which did not seem like a good choice. One can’t imagine anyone holding a grudge for that long. Better choices are available for this actor. Sun just seemed mad throughout the presentation, which really doesn’t work for this character. He was mad at his actor, mad at his father, and mad at his past relationship. Timing is also critical in this comedy. And, the relationship with his father needs a lot of work. Could there be a moment where DHH takes pleasure in something he has done?
Roman Moretti (Marcus Gee) has a powerful voice and does well in this presentation. There’s more to add to character but overall the performance was wonderful. (Note: Yul Brynner had twelve curtain calls each night in The King and I.) More work on the curtain call would be nice if only to give Gee the power he perceives he has with his Asian “counterparts”.
Jon Pendergast is impressive as NWOAOC (Name Withheld On Advice of Counsel) as a reporter and he certainly comes off as a white racist reporter. There is a significant amount of work apparent in Pendergast’s performance, a nuance, and a backstory that eats this material up. His work is wonderful and is brilliant in execution. Do not miss this performance. He plays the announcer, upstage left, and one would not have expected this type of performance as he came downstage. Tremendous work.
Jennifer Vo Le as Leah Anne Cho, also gives a performance that should not be missed as well. This is an actor who is very physical on stage, and with expressive eyes accompanying a deep level of concentration, and an actor willing to take chances with her characters. She is wonderful to watch.
Allonso Faustino plays HYH and others. Faustino has an Italian name but has an Asian look. Interesting. Knowing little about this actor one can only suggest that vocal lessons are in order to give his voice the power the other actors had. Also, work needs to be done to develop the relationship with his father, which doesn’t work to perfection at this point. Love is crucial for the relationship to work and for the play to progress. The father son relationship needs strengthening because it ties the whole play together.
Dennis Nollette is a wonderful actor that provides a wide variety of characterizations to the people he portrays. From the Frank Rich character to the adult bookstore manager all were wonderfully managed. This is also a performance you should not miss.
Lisagaye Tomlinson is very appealing in the characters of Jane Krakowski, Miles Newman and others. David Henry Wang’s mother is Pilipino and Tomlinson would do well to capture that accent but the other characterizations were extremely nuanced and wonderful to watch. Tomlinson is also very funny as Miles Newman, the casting director, who gets herself in an invidious position and then tries to find her way out of it without much success.
Understudies who did not perform the night I was there are as follows: Cait Bidwell, B. Jordan Reed, Melodie Shih, and Edward Hong. Edward Hong is also the Stage Manager.
Publicity - Sandra Kuker PR.
Run! Run! And take a sociologist who will love the interactions between characters.
Beverly Hills Playhouse - August 10 - September 26, 2018