PLAY REVUE: ‘King of the Yees’ Offers Healthy View of Chinese Culture


By Timothy Cox

BALTIMORE, MD– The quaint confines of inner-city Baltimore’s Center Stage Theater provided the appropriate ambiance for a theatrical making of a dramatic-comedy called ‘King of the Yees.’

CAST OF CHARACTERS – A talented cast with varying talents and experiences, made ‘King of the Yees’ an interesting experience to witness professional thespians. (Photo by Bill Geenen).

The play offered a realistic story-tell of a young Chinese-American woman eager to share the traditions of her first-generation Chinese father, who had arrived in America during the early years of World War II. While the two-act play was based on San Francisco’s famous Chinatown, playwright Lauren Yee said it was vital to offer a more general, diverse feeling that would appeal to a wider variety of ethnicities.

The play offers a realistic, personal view of two sides of the Chinese-American experience: one from the daughter, Lauren Yee, and the other from her father, Larry Yee.

For nearly two hours, the play shows how the Yees fully welcome their audience into the inner-nuances of Chinese culture – including the practice of Asian vocal inflections, the intrinsic values of fortune cookies, the Lion Dance and the Red Double Doors that connect us to the Yees’ ancestors.

Larry Yee provides real-life experience to daughter Lauren Yee, throughout
the production. (Photo by Bill Geenen)

With a limited cast of just five characters, ‘King of the Yees’ effectively tell the tales of the Yee family relationship amongst parents, grandparents and others who were early arrivals to the U.S. In her own words, playwright Lauren Yee explains: “I always wanted to write a play about my dad. I feel like he’s such a lively character that he deserved to have his story told, and his participation with the Yee Fung Toy Family Association was something that I grew up with, although I took it for granted,” she said. The association is similar to Elks, VFW or American Legion social-club lodges. The association currently has 10,000 members, nationally.

The time-period is considered “recent,” with Lauren noting her father’s reluctance to join the evolution of the digital and computer age. Still, he was considered ‘King of the Yees.’

Critically speaking, this reporter happened to review this play just one day removed from the horrific Pittsburgh shooting rampage in Squirrel Hill. Unbeknownst at the time, the playwright referred to people of Jewish faith in a playful way, that was a bit sensitive, considering the carnage that occurred at the Tree of Life Synagogue. At one point in the play, a character jokingly noted that most people in the audience were “white,” another insensitive moment in the production, considering a significant portion of the audience were of African descent, including this writer. Future lessons to be learned by the playwright.

The appearance of Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow was another untimely character, considering his penchant for gang-life, violence and shooting of a hand-gun in the play. Lord knows, Baltimore experiences enough of that in its real-life drama. Eventually, his character was arrested by the FBI. And, that was good!

Special credit goes to actors Celeste Den, Khanh Doan, Stan Egi, Joe Ngo and Tony Aidan Vo. Director Desdemona Chiang Scenic Designer Carey Wong are also to be commended.

King of the Yees continues through Sunday, Nov. 18. Call Baltimore Center Stage at 410-332-0033 for more information.