If a play or the message of a play is important or affecting, as is the case with David Henry Hwang's "Yellow Face", currently playing at the Center House Theatre from React Theatre and Pork Filled Players, there is always the danger of the actors in the play to over intensify the work rather than letting it stand on its own. And while the current production at the Center House Theatre definitely has some wonderful moments and great laughs along for the ride, it unfortunately suffers from this problem as the message feels forced and long winded rather than meaningful.
Somewhat autobiographical in nature, the play focuses on the playwright himself, DHH (Moses Yim) as he navigates what it is to be a minority in the ever changing culture of our country. Initially as he is outraged by the casting of Jonathan Pryce as the Eurasian Pimp in "Miss Saigon" but then swiftly faces his own bit of hypocrisy as he casts a young actor, Marcus (Mark Tyler Miller), as the Asian lead in his own play although Marcus is not at all Asian. When the truth begins to come out DHH begins to spin a web of lies that not only catches himself but his friends, family and colleagues and ultimately spins out of control beyond the realm of theatrical casting and into a more national and political one.
Director David Hsieh obviously understands the message here but needs to work on the pace of the play and let some of the air out. Throughout some of the actors insist on presenting their scenes with copious pauses and unless you're doing Pinter or you're William Shatner, pauses need to be earned. With that extra "air" in the speech, the play comes across as beating us over the head with the message.
Yim is likable enough as the Asian-American icon caught in his own lies but suffers the most from the over pausing I mentioned. And that combined with the constant swagger he has adopted for the character makes him come across at times as overly self important. Miller too is very likable and has great stage presence but at times got a little preachy and presentational especially in the "emails" to DHH. The rest of the ensemble does a wonderful job in their multiple roles but also need to work on ironing out the pace of the show especially in those moments of quickly switching from one short bit to the next. But, some of the best performances of the evening came from those same ensemble members. Richard Nguyen Sloniker, Stephanie Kim and Julia Beers handle their varying characters with ease and grace and turn in some of the most real performances in the show and don't fall into that trap of feeling forced.
On the whole it's an amazing play (although I personally feel a little betrayed by the ending) and Hsieh and the actors definitely have a passion for the message. But they need to be careful not to let that passion translate into self indulgence and preaching. Otherwise the message could be diluted or lost as it is in danger of here.
"Yellow Face" from React Theatre and Pork Filled Players performs at the Center House Theatre through July 29th. For tickets or information contact the React box office at 206-364-3283 or visit them online at www.reacttheatre.org.
Photo credit: David Hsieh