Race is a notoriously difficult subject to address in the United States, but David Henry Hwang does a good job of it in his play Yellow Face. It is based in good part upon real life. Mr. Hwang is himself a character in the play, (played by Stan Kang), The playwright, whose earlier play, M. Butterfly, was a critical and commercial success, winds up protesting, along with other Asian Americans, the casting of a white actor in an East Asian lead role in a Broadway production of Miss Saigon. The irony is that Mr. Hwang later casts a caucasian actor in an East Asian role in another play of his own–thinking, absurdly, the actor is at least part Asian.
The play, then, deals with race, with ethnic identity, with cultural authenticity, with universalism. This often has comical elements. For example, Mr. Hwang’s father, an immigrant Chinese and a successful banker, idolizes–in a way, wants to be like–Frank Sinatra. The play does not fall into political correctness–though some of its characters do–and does not seek to provide any solutions nor make the conundrums involved any less complicated or vexing than they are. At the end, Mr. Hwang explicitly undermines sentimentality and denies closure, and does so without adopting a posture of moral superiority.
One of the most effective techniques used by director Natsu Onoda Power is in the handling of the many telephone conversations. Both characters who are speaking on the telephone to each other are situtated fairly far from each other on the stage. Then one of them walks over to the other and the conversation continues sans telephones. This has the effect of lending a greater intimacy to the conversations. The acting is never less than competent. Brandon McCoy gives an especially good performance as the unnamed New York Times reporter
.The play runs until February 23, 2014.