top of page

“Face Value” in the Land of the Free - Review: Yellow Face

Updated: Mar 20, 2019

Las Vegas Little Theatre presents a wild and timely comedic satire about cultural identity involving family politics, international intrigue and Senate investigators. This thought-provoking production of "Yellow Face" runs in the intimate Fischer Black Box through November 22nd.

Cast members are kept on their toes yet smoothly transition across multiple roles in this inventive slice of theatre about misconception and false impression. Stimulating, thought-provoking, worth seeing… and deserving of a satisfying 3 Stars!

The playwright, David Henry Hwang, became the first -- and only -- Asian American dramatist to reach Broadway with his 1988 Tony Award-winning M. Butterfly. With a nod to reality television, Hwang playfully inserts himself among the Yellow Face cast of characters as DHH -- skillfully portrayed by Kris Mayeshiro -- teasing the audience to decipher fact from fiction in this satirical examination of racial identity in America.

Yellow Face begins with the real-life fuss over the casting of Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce as a Eurasian in the New York production of Miss Saigon in 1990. Pryce had originated and played the role for 10 years in West End, London, wearing bronze makeup and facial prosthetics. Hwang lead a group of Asian-Americans to protest the “yellowface” casting (a reference to its cousin, “blackface”, which has similarly permeated the history of performance in western culture).

Two years later, Hwang uses the Miss Saigon casting controversy as the basis for a Broadway-bound farce about race called Face Value. Hwang unwittingly casts Marcus Dahlman, a non-Asian actor, as his Asian leading man. The role of Marcus is effectively and unflappably played by Shane Cullum. Hwang learns that his lead actor is actually 100% white, which forces Hwang to become the architect of a charade to make the actor “appear” Asian to the public, suggesting “Marcus Gee” as a more Asian-sounding stage name.

To Hwang’s increasing frustration, he and “Gee” repeatedly cross paths — most notably when Gee is questioned in an investigation of Asian-American donations to presidential campaign funds and Hwang is implicated in an overseas money-laundering scandal related to his father’s bank. These events, coupled with the trial of Wen Ho Lee, an Asian-American scientist wrongfully accused of espionage, generate tremendous media attention, casting a suspicious eye on the Asian-American community, from an arguably racist perspective.

The play is a free-wheeling mix of playwriting forms. On one level, it works as political satire, mocking social and political institutions for the sake of comedy. On another, it presents a serious “documentary drama,” chronicling real events with real people’s real words. In addition, the playwright explains, “In Yellow Face, the audience may believe they are watching a stage documentary [but] … begin to doubt whether the events portrayed actually happened.” Hwang’s intention is to blur the lines between fact and fiction in the same way that stereotypes blur the truth in matters of race, personal identity and cultural authenticity.

This soul searching romp is commendably embraced throughout the direction by Rommel Pacson. By using minimal scenery and lighting, setting the production in the round, and having the acting ensemble always present (and visible) as audience members, Pacson ensures that the audience focus remains on the issues (and the dialog) – racial identity, profiling and America’s relations with its minorities.

bottom of page