King of the Yees - Gateway Theatre

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King of the Yees – by Lauren Yee

October 13 – 22, 2016 | Gateway Theatre

There were three Lauren Yees at Gateway Theatre on the opening night of King of the Yees. One, the playwright from San Francisco, was sitting in the audience, and the other two were onstage. King of the Yees is about Lauren’s relationship with her father, Larry Yee, and the play is partly about her process of writing the play itself.

In the opening scene we see Lauren (Donna Soares) and Larry (Raugi Yu) in the ornate Yee family association building — at least we think they are Lauren and Larry. Then in walks Lauren (Andrea Yu) to add some directorial notes and we realize they are playing actors in Lauren’s play within the play. Are you still with me? Then Lauren’s father (Gateway artistic director Jovanni Sy) joins them, and after already presenting a unique opening scene, they break the fourth wall and talk to the audience.

The rapid fire dialogue between Lauren and Larry in this opening scene, and the way it sets up the conflict of the story, grabbed my attention immediately.  

Larry Yee is the king referenced in the show’s title due to his position in the Yee family association, described in the show as an antiquated association for older Chinese men with the last name Yee. But Larry still feels very strongly about its importance in Chinatown, and about his place within it.

Lauren, on the other hand, has moved to New York, married a Jew, and is undecided about having children. All things her father hasn’t come to terms with. He is hoping for grandchildren, hoping Lauren and her husband will move back to San Francisco (he even arranged a job for her husband), and looking forward to a trip to China with Lauren to see their family’s village.

Eventually Lauren finds herself on a quest to reclaim her relationship with her father, and this takes her on a wild journey around Chinatown where she encounters a lion dancer, a Szechuan face changer, and a gangster named Shrimp Boy (there really is a gangster by that name in San Francisco).

Meanwhile, the actors who were playing Lauren and Larry were sent away on a break and the scenes we see of them talking about their acting careers, Asian accents, and auditions are hilarious.

This show was entertaining from start to finish and has a wonderful mix of humour and family drama with plenty of cultural references for both insiders and outsiders. There were only a couple of scenes that leaned a bit too slapstick for my liking, but otherwise this is a solid play from a talented playwright. She took the advice “write what you know” to heart and it paid off. 

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