Sunday, January 27, 2019

King of the Yees: 四颗星 BANG BANG (Four Stars with Two Bangles of Praise)

24 hours later, we are still laughing. Lauren Yee's "King of the Yees" is brilliant, innovative and self-deprecating while fiercely proud at the same time. It is also very, very funny, with sequences that are nothing short of side-splitting.

You don't have to be San Franciscans to appreciate all the nuances of this show -- but, hey, we are! Shrimp Boy in the white mink and all-white theater audiences and Chinese parents demanding grandchildren and don't forget the Jews. The show skewers every nationality so hard it could probably be on Fox, if there were anything fake about it, which there isn't, and if it weren't so sympathetic and heartfelt about all cultures.

We don't want to give anything away. Playwright Lauren Yee (played by Krystie Piamonte) has hired Actor 2 (Rinabeth Apostol) to play Lauren in her show about the obsolescence and irrelevance of modern Chinatown. She has also hired Actor 1 (Jomar Tagatac) to play her father, Larry Yee (Francis Jue), the King of the Yees. (Larry runs the local Yee Family Association.)

But...she hasn't bothered to tell her dad that the play is about him, or that this is basically his daughter's good-bye to Chinatown and, by extension, to her Chinese heritage. Then, Larry comes to rehearsal.

Get ready for brilliant actors playing multiple parts, and parodies of Chinatown traditions such as lion dances and a liquor store where they sell "the good, cheap stuff." Don't forget the Lum Elders. God, no.

Each actor has room to steal this show, including Actor 3 (Will Dao), who comes out of the audience to play several terrific roles, including the dancing lion and a Lum elder.

If someone that wasn't Chinese had written this show, it would probably get skewered for insensitivity. But she is, and she's allowed. "King of the Yees" is a terrific, satisfying production that in the end is all about a girl trying to talk to her Dad.

OK, yeah. The ending's too long.


The San Francisco Theater Blog awards "King of the Yees" 四颗星 BANG BANG. This means FOUR STARS, plus TWO BANGLES OF PRAISE.One Bangle is for Francis Jue and the way he made us understand what was going on inside Larry Yee, a man who on the surface seems impossibly devoted to all things named Yee (His campaign chant for Leland Yee: "Who do we want? YEE! When do we want it? YEE!")

 The other Bangle is for the way this show makes me laugh, un-self-consciously, at all the trappings that every culture considers sacred. Come on, people. In the end it always comes down to Mom and Dad.

San Francisco Playhouse 
450 Post St.
 Second floor of Kensington Hotel 
Through March 2 

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