A case of mistaken racial identity with non-stop laughs

| August 30, 2018 | 0 Comments

Yellow Face by David Henry Hwang concerns a time period in the playwright’s life, like many of his shows. Mr. Hwang’s most recent production in Los Angeles was the book for “Soft Power,” the musical that opened in May of this year at the Ahmanson Theatre, Center Theatre Group. “Yellow Face” is an extension of an earlier Hwang play, “Face Value,” that chronicled the controversy of hiring Roger Pryce, a Caucasian actor, to play the Asian pimp in “Miss Saigon” on Broadway. “Face Value” was a flop.

In “Yellow Face,” Hwang’s alter ego DHH (Jeffrey Sun) hires Marcus G. Dahlman, eventually known as Marcus Gee (Roman Moretti), as an Asian American in “Face Value.” But the actor is Caucasian. A case of mistaken racial identity.

It’s a casting choice DHH will come to regret. Believing Marcus is Asian, the complexities of the deception soon lead DHH to government intrigue and investigation when finally revealed. DHH’s deception ultimately settles on saying Marcus is a Jew from Siberia. The titular term, yellow face, refers to a white actor going on stage with disguising make-up in order to portray an Asian. Yul Brynner in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I” is an example — one that Marcus Gee follows.

This is a superb cast, each actor playing a variety of roles with delineating clarity: Alfonso Faustino, wonderful as HYH (Henry Y. Hwang, the alter ego of DHH’s father) plus an array of other roles including actor B.D. Wong; Lisagaye Tomlinson as actress Jane Krakowski and more; John Pendergast as the announcer and a wonderfully intrusive journalist; Jennifer Vo Le as Leah plus. Dennis Nollette doubles as Cameron MacIntosh as well as Senator Fred Thompson and others. Director Robert Zimmerman has kept the setting simple, chairs arranged in a staged-reading semicircle, and minimal props.

Zimmerman found the comedic pace and timed the laughs perfectly. And they are non-stop. Mr. Hwang never disappoints. His plays are always insightful and very entertaining.

Through Wed., Sept. 26. Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd. bhplayhouse.com.                   4 Stars

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Rosh Hashanah eve in 1967, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, New York, is the setting for Jews, Christians and Screwing Stalin written by husband and wife team Mark Lonow and Jo Anne Astrow. Lonow is co-owner of the famous Improv Comedy Club. The action takes place in the Grazonsky family rooming house. It is a brilliantly detailed two-level scenic design by Joel Daavid. The Grazonsky family has gathered for the holiday, some dead, as in patriarch Murray (John Pleshette) who views and comments on the proceedings from a Paradise that includes Maureen O’Hara. There is Grandson Joey (Hunter Milano) who has brought his pregnant Christian girlfriend Caitlin (Sammi-Jack Martincak) to meet his relatives. Then there’s David Grazonsky (Travis York), son of the patriarch and father to Joey, struggling with alcohol addiction. And finally, there’s Minka Grazonsky, otherwise known as Bubbe (Cathy Ladman) who was a radical communist, hence the titular reference to Stalin, and whose more personal relationship with the dictator is hinted at. Add a collection of roomers: busybody Lillie Feinstein (Laura Julian), aging Mister Goldman (Marty Ross) and Miss Koppelson (Sally Schaub). The evening is heavy on shtick, and the physical comedy tries too hard and is, at times, illogical. There are some laughs. The play wanders through two acts finally coming to a somewhat acceptable conclusion.

Through Sun., Sept. 23. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave. 323-960-4412. Plays411.com/Matzoballs.            3 Stars

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Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of The Temptations, book by Dominique Morisseau, “The Detroit Project” music and lyrics from The Legendry Motown Catalog, has sailed into the Ahmanson Theatre for its pre-Broadway run. I’ll say it up front —Don’t Miss It!

Narrated by founding member, Otis Williams (a triple triple threat Derrick Basin), this is their story, from how they got together through their discovery by Berry Gordy (Jahi Kearse) and their rise to become the greatest R&B group of all time (Billboard Magazine 2017).

The show is filled with personal triumphs and tragedy. Several of the original group were lost to illness and addiction. And the political conflicts and civil unrest they faced reflect the history of the United States. There have been some 24 Temptations since their inception. But the group and this show are all about the music. And what music. Thirty-one songs are performed, and more than one will pull you into your own life memories. For those just discovering this sound (I guess there are a few people who haven’t experienced their oeuvre), you are in for a treat. Songs like “My Girl,” “Gloria,” “Baby Love” and 29 more. All choreographed with historic accuracy and visceral power by Sergio Trujillo. All the famous names in music of that era are present, Diana Ross (Candice Marie Woods), Mary Wilson (Taylor Symone Jackson) and more. There is a great on-stage orchestra under the direction of Kenny Seymour. This is an excellent multi-talented cast of 20, and director Des McAnuff has created a perfect balance for this powerful show.

Through Sun., Sept. 30, Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., 213-972-4400. centertheatregroup.org.         4 Stars

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