Challenging Conceptions of Race

​Review of Yellow Face at Undergraduate Theater Society by Sophie D.

Yellow Face

Race. What is its meaning? How does it affect us? How can it be changed? Is it even real?

This complicated topic is addressed comprehensively, hilariously, and uniquely in David Henry Hwang’s Yellow Face, produced by the Undergraduate Theater Society (UTS) at the University of Washington. In this semi-autobiographical story, Hwang (Mikko Juan), a well-known playwright and Asian-American civil rights activist, mistakenly casts a white actor in an Asian title role, making himself part of the problem of whitewashing and marginalization he’s trying to fight — or so he thinks.

As Hwang tries to “yellow face” the white Marcus (Mickey McDonell) to cover his tracks, the situation goes into directions he never imagined. Yellow Face takes us on an emotional roller coaster that effortlessly covers the tumultuous 1990s in just two hours, fueled by huge roster of characters, with Season Qiu, Simon Tran, Anna Saephan, Cory Lee, Peter Sakowicz, and Gabrielle Boettner trading the many roles of family, friends, colleagues, critics, the public, the media, and the government. These forces pressure Hwang until the play concludes at a place of humility, acceptance, and hope.

Elizabeth Wu directs a beautifully staged show. Black box theaters are often preferred because of the intimacy of the environment between the actors and the audience, but can also be too minimalist for adequate scene-setting. Yellow Face does not have this problem. The simple sheet-covered frames that make up most of the set prove versatile as transition cues, architecture, screens for animation to be projected onto, and more. This production would be worth seeing for the well-executed set movements alone. The staging, combined with the great acting and storytelling, make UTS’ Yellow Face a complete success.

Unfortunately, Yellow Face is held back from being a perfect field trip option for most schoolchildren due to profanity and adult themes, but high school students should be able to handle it. Ticket prices start at a mild $5 for everyone, not just TeenTix members.

Yellow Face is a brilliantly and sensitively constructed story that challenges conceptions of race, family, and community from all angles. The play doesn’t answer all questions about race, but it transmits a deeper understanding superbly. And, to borrow a concept brought up repeatedly in the play, why should what we look like even matter compared to who we are inside?

Yellow Face
UW Undergraduate Theater Society
January 22 - February 1

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