King of the Yees fantastically staged by SF Playhouse.

King of the Yees: Comedy by Lauren Yee. Directed by Joshua Kahan Brody. SF Playhouse. 450 Post Street, San Francisco CA., 2nd floor of the Kensington Park Hotel. 415-677-9596, or

King of the Yees fantastically staged by SF Playhouse.

It has been almost 4 years since a Lauren Yee play appeared on the boards in San Francisco with her dramatic play “In a Word” staged as part of San Francisco’s Sand Box Series. In those intervening years she has honed her craft and is recognized as a consummate playwright earning accolades and awards for a multitude of works. “King of the Yees” gracing the stage at San Francisco Playhouse is fortunate to have a superb cast, an exemplary director and a top notch creative crew  to almost compensate for the play’s questionable construction .

Act 1 begins as a meta-theatrical semi-autobiographical play within a play. On stage are real life actors Rinabeth Apostol (Lauren) and Jomar Tagatac (Larry) rehearsing a play written by Lauren Yee to honor her father Larry Yee. Out of the audience pop the real Lauren (Krystal Piamonte) and Larry (Francis Jue) and amid their bickering infused with generational differences the actors are sent back stage to later return to discuss the difficulties of playing Chinese characters.

Lauren has not learned to speak Cantonese, has married a Jewish lawyer and is moving to Germany. She has not provided her father with children to carry on the traditions of the House of Yee. Other characters (all played by Rinabeth Apostol, Jomar Tagatac, and Will Dao) rush out of the audience or from back stage to take part in the history of the House of Yee that resides behind the Imperial Chinese Red doors that dominate center stage (Bill English, scenic designer).

Francis Jue invests the  character Larry Yee with warmth, tenacity and strength in his desire to have the Yee name to live on forever. Daughter Lauren is at disadvantage in her attempt to bridge the generational gap that is implicit in the play.

Mr. Yee has reached the very significant age 60 and is planning a big party. He also has spent years supporting the political ambitions Leland Yee (no relation) who is on his way to prison for malfeasance.  Proud Larry must go to the take down all Leland Yee signs that he had put up to replace the signs of Leland’s opposition.

Father Larry tells his daughter Lauren the background of the Yee Association and bemoans its decline. She has no loyalty to San Francisco Chinatown and does not understand a word when her father speaks Cantonese. The real author Lauren includes a biting scene allowing an activist audience member wearing a CAL sweatshirt to berate her for not including the true picture of Chinatown rife with a neglected senior population, economic disparity and gang warfare. This all comes toward the end of Act one.

Act two starts with super scene that takes place off stage right signifying backstage with the actors within the initial play within a play, (Apostol and Tagatac) discussing  the lack of opportunity for Asian actors in Los Angles. To this reviewer it suggested that playwright Yee was getting ready for some serious philosophy. However it was not to be. The play within a play is completely dropped from the script. However the entire second act is hysterically unrealistic mystical with over-the-top acting in individual vignettes.  Lauren now becomes the character tying the disparate vignettes together and she goes searching for her mysteriously missing father. There are three ingredients to unlock the past- – – a special liquor, oranges and firecrackers.

We get to meet the crook named Shrimp Boy sipping tea through a straw, Larry’s ancient ancestor  dressed in drag, an FBI shootout that out shoots shootouts in general and finally the opening of the symbolic Chinese Red Door that is wheeled back to center stage.

The entire evening runs two hours and 20 minute with an intermission and probably would be better suited to tight 100 minute evening.

Despite these perceived shortcomings, the evening is a solid “should see” with the marvelous cast led by local icon Francis Jue superbly supported by Rinabeth Apostol, Jomar Tagatac, Krystle Piamonte and Will Dao. Director Joshua Kahan Brody more than earns his stripes keeping the play intact with the aid of a superlative creative crew.

CAST: Francis Jue as Larry Yee; Krystle Piamonte as Lauren;  Jomar Tagatac, Rinabeth Apostol, and Will Dao as everyone else.

CREATIVE TEAM: Director, Joshua Kahan Brady; Scenic Designer, Bill English; Costume Designer, Sarah Nietfeld; Sound Designer, Mikhail Fiksel; Lighting Designer, Wen-Ling Liao; Properties Designer, Jacquelyn Scott; Stage Manager, Sarah Marie Selig.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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