June 24, 2011
By John Dalton
In the hands of the Silk Road Theater Ensemble, Henry David Hwang’s “Yellow Face” is a lighthearted and thoughtful romp through a story of racial, cultural, and professional identity. Recounted anecdotally through the character of Henry David Hwang, the seven person ensemble adeptly relates an episodic tale woven from fiction and autobiographical slices from Hwang’s life.
Hwang’s text is bright, immediate, and engaging. The story is filled with moments of humor, honesty, and mixed emotions about a subject that we all, at some point, confront in our own lives. Though not all of us share Hwang’s personal point of view as a Chinese-American, the play digs into the deeper emotional issues surrounding questions of race. It’s hard not to feel a sense of sympathy and kinship for the very human, honest, and sometimes unflattering circumstances these characters find themselves in. Though we see characters make choices that would be hard to be proud of, Hwang is careful not to vilify them. His clear-eyed view is softened by sympathy. If there is anyone in the play that he is most stern with, it is himself. Through this story we’re introduced into Hwang’s own world of conflicted, complicated emotions and circumstances surrounding the role race plays in his life.
This is a tight, enjoyable, thought-provoking show. Staged in brisk, clean strokes by director Steve Scott, the skilled ensemble falls easily into a gallery of roles ranging from amusing caricature to nuanced portrait. Notable among them is Joseph Anthony Foronda’s turn as Hwang’s father, a first generation immigrant and successful banker; Foronda does a great job with the role’s pompous, blustering broad comedy and deeply felt human story.
The play feels large in Silk Road’s tiny basement theater; the space works to the show’s advantage, keeping the story focused and giving the audience a close encounter with these close and personal interactions. It’s a fine production, one that gets waist-deep into the issue without becoming mired, and one that asks more questions than it answers.