Facing the Face: “Yellow Face”

Presented by the Office of War Information (Bureau of Theatre)
­­­­By David Henry Hwang
Directed by Cliff Odle

July 14 – 31st
Boston Center for the Arts
539 Tremont Street, Boston
Office of War Information on Facebook

Review by Danielle Rosvally

(Boston, MA) The Office of War Information surely makes a splash with their maiden production in the BCA, Yellow Face.  This unreliable memoir explores the implications of race (specifically Asian-Americanness) in the late twentieth century; expertly smudging the lines between reality and fiction. 

The story follows avatar-of-playwright David Henry Hwang just after his Tony award win for the 1988 smash M. Butterfly.  Hwang’s participation in the protest against the casting of a European actor to play a Eurasian role in Broadway’s Miss Saigon backfires when Hwang finds that he has unwittingly cast a white actor to play the Asian lead of his latest piece.  The play explores what this means to Asian-Americanness, particularly in light of the 1990’s Donorgate scandal and the anti-Asian sentiments that surfaced because of it.

The cast (themselves all representing different facets of Asian-American experiences, as the playbill lovingly declares) deftly weaves their way through the fast-paced, demanding dialogue this piece requires.  With the exception of Adam Lokken Barrameda (who plays the fictional Marcus G. Dahlman) and Michael Hisamoto (who tackles the role of David Henry Hwang himself), the rest of the versatile ensemble plays a multitude of parts.  Different characters are denoted by an assortment of accessories; hats, jackets, ties, etc. that are frequently used to quickly change from one figure to another in full view of the audience.  These actors are on their toes; exuding immense amounts of energy as they rotate through their repertoire of humans (some fictional, some very real) with deft aplomb.  The depth they manage to create for these characters, some of whom speak only a few lines of dialogue, is absolutely incredible.

Barrameda is real and truthful as Marcus G. Dahlman with soulful eyes and a genuine sense of expression.  Hisamoto is quick and immersive as Hwang; completely believable in both his humor and outrage.  Eric Cheung shows incredible versatility; leaping between heavy and light-hearted roles in the blink of an eye.  Ajay Jain is simultaneously creepy and authoritative.  Mara Elissa Palma wears the parts she plays like a familiar coat; she knows how to make the best of every corner of this text.  Radha Shukla demonstrates firecracker energy levels with pinpointed focus.  Helen Swanson rounds out the cast with her robust capabilities and down-to-earth realness.  This ensemble functions like clockwork to bring a tight piece that packs a punch.  In short: the plays is not to be missed.

This show is jam-packed with honesty: honest acting about honest issues that, honestly, affect us all.  Those who think that race is not a vital issue to contemporary America have perhaps lived with their heads in the sand.  Because it’s a show about humanity, there is of course lightness and humor to it; but also a grave sense of import.  This piece is truly a powerful force of theatre brought to life by an incredibly talented cast.  The only true piece of criticism that I can level at this play is in its awkward, stilting transition from performance to intermission then back into performance; but that seems to be a growing pain of a new company.  I, for one, cannot wait to see what the O.W.I. has to offer us in the years to come.

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