By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Hot on the heels of last year’s “Mikado” controversy comes a University of Washington production of David Henry Hwang’s play “Yellow Face,” a study of racial and cultural issues surrounding Asian American theatre. The show runs from Jan. 27th to Feb. 1st at the Cabaret Theatre in the UW’s Hutchinson Hall. Assistant Director Jasmine Paik took some questions over e-mail.
NWAW: Which department or drama class is putting on “Yellow Face” and how was that title decided on?
Jasmine Paik: Our Undergraduate Theatre Society (UTS) is putting on this production. An undergraduate pitches an idea, complete with who will stage manage, do tech, and how they plan to do the play itself, to the board and they approve or disapprove which shows to do over the year. Elizabeth Wu, a senior undergraduate, stumbled upon the script and decided that she wanted to direct this show.
NWAW: What’s the plot of “Yellow Face” and how does it relate to the rest of the playwright’s work?
Jasmine Paik: “Yellow Face” is about an Asian playwright by the name of David Henry Hwang, who is a strong activist against racism, to be more specific, yellow-facing.
(Yellow-facing is much like blackface, only they’re masking to be Asian). The whole show is about this man, who protests “Miss Saigon,” in which a white man was playing the Asian pimp role, accidentally casting a white man in his own play (“Face Value”) as an Asian. He spends a large portion of the show trying to cover up his blunder and paying the price for his mistake. It’s a relevant play about putting up a mask and learning to uncover the truth.
NWAW: What is your role in the production? What did you find most challenging about your work?
Jasmine Paik: I was the assistant director, as well as the costume crew help. I did the work, along with another assistant director, Megan Brewer.
We asked Sharon Pian Chan (the Seattle Times editor who wrote about “Mikado”) to come in and talk about why yellow-facing was still a problem, and organized a cast trip to the Wing Luke Museum to become more culturally aware of Asian traditions and culture.
It was difficult at times finding things to do to help because there’s so many budget and time limitations. It was also sometimes frustrating when things fell through, such as our meeting with the Gilbert and Sullivan Society. However, I think the most challenging part was how much time we had to put into the show. Rehearsals ran from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. and in the last stretch from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. This was not only straining with school being a priority, but also tiring. However, it was worth all the dedication and hard work to see how beautiful the final picture came out and how much the cast has learned.
NWAW: Describe the cast and the roles they play—where they come from, what each one brings to the role.
Jasmine Paik: Mikko Juan plays the lead as David Henry Hwang himself. He is not only flexible in his acting, but he’s also very dedicated to his role. He’s also very optimistic and brings positivity to the group. He brings so much attention from the audience because of his enormous stage presence!
Mickey McDonell plays Marcus Gee. He’s one of the quieter people on our cast, but he works very hard on his lines and is extremely diligent with the way he handles situations given to him.
Season Qiu plays David’s father, Henry Y. Hwang. He is an exchange student from Nanning, China. He’s a new actor, but it doesn’t show at all. He’s done so much in terms of lightening the atmosphere with his humor, to just showing how hard work could make a professional. He’s been very good at listening to director notes and turning it into constructive work by the next day.
Cory Lee plays as Wen Ho Lee and others. Being a newer actor as well, he’s really shown improvement over the course of three months. He is very kind and always does his best to better his acting.
Simon Tran is playing the part of B.D. Wong and others. He’s a more experienced actor, which was really helpful for the others. He also tries his best to be a positive person and contributes great ideas for the show.
Anna Saephan plays Leah, Margaret Cho, and others. She’s always a bright patch of light for the crew with a smile and determination to work hard every day at rehearsals.
Peter Sakowicz plays Cameron Macintosh and others. He’s very talented in impressions and keeps the atmosphere light with his humor and bright smile. He’s also very flexible and keeps a very professional demeanor.
Gabi Boettner plays Jane Krakowski and others. Although she’s a first year student at the UW, she acts extremely well. She also had so many ideas of where each of her characters could go that really developed and helped distinguish each of her parts.
NWAW: Describe the director and the other people working behind the scenes.
Jasmine Paik: Elizabeth Wu, Yellow Face’s director, is as bubbly and personable as she is creative. Her boundless energy and artistic genius have made this one hell of a production. Jessica Stephens, stage manager, is no exception when it comes to talented crew. She runs the production like a well-oiled machine and is always there to make sure things are in check and as organized as possible.
Kayla Dresse, Rhoya Seldon, Andrew Guy, Andrew Swann, Jillian Johnson, Sandra Bobman, and many more amazing and dedicated people have made this show come to life.
NWAW: What’s in the future for you and the people you’re working with?
Jasmine Paik: Hopefully, I have more business to do with the UTS! It was such an honor to work with such talented people and being a part of something more than just myself. I hope to continually work with actors such as them. whether it be on stage or back stage. I also loved being able to reach out and talk to newspapers and other organizers. It made me realize how much I enjoyed putting things together.
I think we’ve all learned a lot from this show. Not only about how important it is to be culturally aware of our surroundings and the oppression Asians still face, but also about how a group of people putting on a play could help others around us be aware as well.
Now, we’re all a small part of each other’s lives and it’s a memory for our future selves to remember with fondness. (end)
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.