Signature has done it again. A feast for the eyes, “King of The Yees,” written by Lauren Yee and directed by Jennifer Chang, is a meta-romp through time and space with the theme of identity ever present as our protagonist struggles with her obligations to her family and herself. Director Chang has succeeded in making the universe of the play feel enormous as Lauren Yee hops from dimension to dimension in a mad dash to rescue her father, who is trapped in a black hole of self-doubt. If Lauren Yee fails to secure three key ingredients before sunset, her relationship with her father will change forever.
A feast for the eyes…The cast is phenomenal…bursting with joy.
“King of The Yees” is Lauren Yee’s love letter to her family and San Francisco’s Chinatown. We follow the playwright, Lauren (Ashley D. Nguyen), as she attempts to put on a play that explores the fraught relationship between herself and her father, Larry. As Lauren and the actors playing her and her father begin their rehearsal, Larry bursts onto the scene. He helps us understand his connection to Chinatown and Yee family history, including doors to The Yee Fung Toy Family Association, a men’s social club. According to Larry, the doors can only be opened by a member of the Yee family. When California state senator, Leland Yee (no relation to Larry), is arrested by the FBI for money laundering, Larry is devastated. He considers himself of great importance to Leland’s campaign party. When Larry goes missing, Lauren must confront the many aspects of her identity and, ultimately, rearrange her priorities.
This gorgeous show has no shortage of technical marvels, and they can be best described as effectively compartmentalized. Many of the set pieces are roving, including a bench on which Lauren meets the elders of Chinatown, and a cart where Lauren tastes the strongest whiskey in Chinatown. The play begins in a black box which is primarily empty, a good choice by scenic designer Tanya Orellana as we need to see the playing space grow and change as Lauren grows and changes. The only ever-present set piece are the doors that lead to The Yee Fung Toy Family Association, signifying Lauren’s constant struggle with her identity. Lighting designer Minjoo Kim kept us on our toes with dreamy sequences as Lauren travels into liminal spaces, juxtaposed with standard, black box lighting during points of audience interaction.
The cast is phenomenal. Nguyen as Lauren and Grant Chang as Larry bring the compassion as a wonderfully dynamic father-daughter duo. The supporting cast is especially strong. Sylvia Kwan and Jacob Yeh as Actors 1 and 2 take on multiple roles—even a lion dance. Their scenes are fast-paced and hilarious. When Lauren accidentally calls up Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a notorious gangster and Leland Yee’s co-conspirator, Yeh accesses his trademark swagger and engages Kwan in an expertly crafted, slow-motion gun fight. Congratulations to fight director Casey Kaleba for those beautiful sequences.
At its heart, “King of The Yees” is a hero’s journey and the cast and crew ensured that the audience is constantly enraptured in the plot and action. This show required a sense of fun and strong respect for the material, all of which is apparent—it is practically bursting with joy.
Running Time: Approximately two hours plus one 15-minute intermission.
Advisory: Recommended for mature teens and up; some mild stereotypical language; gunshot sounds and theatrical haze.
“King of The Yees” runs through October 22, 2023 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave, Arlington VA, 22206. For more information and tickets, call The Box Office at 703-820-9771 or go online.