Sunday, May 20, 2012

Play: Yellowface

The Probationary Theatre put on the fascinating and very political play Yellowface, a play by David Henry Hwang. The comedy is actually a mockumentary garishly illuminating the farsical act of Broadway (and other American theatrics) casting Caucasians to play the parts of Asians with the aid of make up and eye tape. The play is a satire of the ridiculous double standards used in the casting systems and portrays what happens when America's best known Asian rights activist and playwright accidentally casts a leading actor for his latest play ... with a Caucasian. Once the error has been discovered, the man has been hired and so with millions poured into the advertising of the production, the producers make desperate attempts to 'hide' the truth from the general public and pass the man off as an Asian. In doing so, the definition "Asian" gets questioned and takes on more and more of a complex meaning.

For more on Asian racism in America, check out this web site.
 Some useful production notes for understanding the background of this political piece:
(info taken from the play's brochure)

About the playwright, David Henry Hwang
David Henry Hwang is a prominent Asian American activist and playwright best known for the play M Butterfly, a deconstruction of Giacomo Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly. The play is also loosely based on news reports of the relationship between a French diplomat, and a male Chinese spy/opera singer who purportedly convinced Boursicot that he was a woman throughout their twenty-year relationship in order to gain information for the Chinese government. The play premiered on Broadway in 1988 and made Hwang the first Asian American to win the Tony Award for Best Play. The play Yellowface is semi-autobiographical.

The Miss Saigon controversy
In the London production of Miss Saigon, white actors playing Eurasian/Asian characters, wore eye prostheses and bronzing creams to make themselves look more Asian, which outraged some who drew comparison to a "minstrel show". When the production transferred from London to New York City, the Actors' Equity Association (AEA) refused to allow Jonathan Pryce, a white actor, to recreate the role of the Eurasian pimp in America. This ruling led to criticism from many including British Equity, citing violations of the principles of artistic integrity and freedom. Producer Cameron Mackintosh threatened to cancel the show, despite massive advanced ticket sales.

Although there had been a large, well-publicized international search among Asian actresses to play the lead, there had been no equivalent search for Asian actors to play the major Asian male roles. Pryce was considered by many in Britain to have "star status", a clause that allows a well-known foreign actor to recreate a role on Broadway without an American casting call. After pressure from Mackintosh, the general public, and many of its own members, Actors' Equity was forced to reverse its decision.

Wen Ho Lee
Dr. Wen Ho Lee is a Taiwan-born Taiwanese American scientist who worked for the University of California at the Low Alamos National Laboratory. In 1982 Lee was recorded on a wiretap speaking with another Taiwanese-American scientist who had been accused of espionage. In December 1999, a federal grand jury indicted him on 59 counts of stealing secrets about US nuclear arsenal for the People's Republic of China. His name was leaked to the press before charges were laid. Lee was denied bail and placed in solitary confinement for 9 months. Lee later filed a civil suit against the government and the 5 media outlets that leaked his name.

No comments:

Post a Comment