People have been asking me what I think of this show. I apologize for being late to the game (again) with this review. So, I know I had a good time. I did laugh a lot, it was much funnier than I had anticipated. I think I wanted a little bit more from the play, but overall its starkly contrasting first and second act had me very entertained and left me somewhat enlightened.
Larry: You would rather not do something than do it incorrect.
Lauren: Incorrectly, Dad.
Lauren Yee's King of the Yees is her story of coming to terms with her cultural roots and grasping what her culture means to her as an adult. Specifically through her relationship with her father, she pinpoints where she assigns meaning to her cultural history and where the meaning is already present, like an open book, just waiting to be read. The first act is possibly the most prime example of meta theatre I have ever seen. This works for some people, for others its anti-traditional nature is a deal-breaker. We meet two actors (Angela Lin and Daniel Smith) working on Lauren Yee's new play, when we are suddenly interrupted by a walk-in audience member, Lauren's dad, Larry Yee (played with great honesty, humor and commitment by Francis Jue). I enjoyed the change of pace and thought this style of story-telling was engaging and well executed. The second act is completely different, and my personal favorite. While others have described it as a Alice in Wonderland style plot, to me it feels more like an action-adventure video game. The pacing, combined with the music, lighting and set design in this one really bring the dark mischief of Chinatown to life in a very captivating way. Very unexpected in comparison to the first act. The whole show is pretty much one big surprise after another, which makes for a great time. But...for such a grand show, I wanted just a little bit more of a grander take-away.
Leading conversations about this show has been a very interesting process. From what I've noticed, half of our Chinese American audience loves it, thinks it's hilarious, and the other half is up in arms, very offended by "overtly stereotypical" characters and cliché content. I'm embarrassed to say, I don't know enough about this culture to be offended. And maybe that's the point, maybe I'm supposed to know more. Actually, I'm sure I am. But this show definitely taught me a thing or two about the work ethic, loyalty and familial structure of the Chinese American community. Similar to a popular topic of conversation taking place at Zoot Suit earlier this year, second generationers expressed the complexity of relating to a culture as Americans, not being from "the old country." People that couldn't speak the language, but still cherished their roots, and how they felt discriminated against not only by whites, for looking different, but by people of their native culture, for not having "earned" it the hard way.
"I'm afraid I will have loved someone that I never really knew."
-Lauren to her Dad
Personally, I especially appreciated the father/daughter themes of the show. It was a bit of a wake-up call, watching when we choose to be invested in our familial relationships. It makes me want to be closer to my dad, and especially to learn more about our Italian family I never knew. Also what is important to him, why it is, and why it might be important to me too.
Speaking of, the show makes me want to reach back even farther to understand more about my own heritage. Like, on my mom's side, my grandma, or my Mumča, I should say, is renowned in the Slovenian community for her strudel. A number of years ago there was a huge picture of her, followed by an extensive article on the front page of the Cooking section of the Chicago Tribune. Of course this was framed in her home for all to see and was the main topic of conversation at the Petek residence for probably over a year. For banquets at the Slovenian Cultural Center growing up, Mumča would spend days making the strudel. Putting a huge ply board on top of the kitchen table and and rolling out the dough paper thin. The result would yield a hot, flakey pastry in the flavors of apple or sweet cheese, sprinkled lovingly with powdered sugar. Whenever I return to California after a trip to Chicago, everyone expects me to haul home a few logs of Mumča's frozen strudel. Recently, my cousin and I realized, that if Mumča were ever to pass away, her strudel would be extinct to the world forever. There's no written recipe for this thing, and even if there was, the technique is...that of a strudel master alone. So...I must become a master. I must learn from her and carry on the delicious tradition that has blessed (probably) thousands.
I would recommend this show if you're ready to roll up for a high energy, good time and want to get a little Chinese history lite rolled in there too. King of the Yees runs at the Kirk Douglas Theatre through August 6th.