How would you feel if you attended a play that included yellow face? Now imagine being an Asian actor constantly auditioning in New York City (struggling to come across casting calls that fit your type) and finding out that a major theater company went with white actors for the roles of the Emperor and Empress of China. Han Ong’s latest play Chairs and a Long Table addresses this very issue. As a part of the Ma-Yi Theater Company’s “Breaking the Myth” series, Ong’s new play is making it’s world premier in rep alongside Carlos Celdron’s Livin’ La Vida Imelda at The Clurman Theater. Yellow face, black face, brown face, white washing characters that were written to be of color – these are all problems that are still going strong today, and the timing of this play could not be more appropriate.
Directed by Linsay Firman, Chairs and a Long Table features a cast of 5: Landon (Ron Domingo), Brin (Jeena Yi), Angie (Julienne Hanzelka Kim), Bill (Moses Villarama), and Crissie (Julie Fitzpatrick). These 5 characters are gathered in a New York City conference room to prepare Bill and Angie to speak on behalf of the Asian community at a Town Hall in California about the offensive decision of the Laguna Rep to produce an Asian play with a cast of white actors in yellow face as Asian characters. The 4 Asian actors of the group work with conflict resolution specialist Crissie to prepare for their standoff with the Rep the next day.
Angie is playing good cop to Bill’s bad cop but they have to be very careful about their approach. Together the group works out what the two will say at the Town Hall and anticipates every possible rebuttal they may face. Major tension encroaches as anger about the issue builds, surprising changes by the Rep pop up, and serious disagreements threaten to derail the whole plan. We get to know intimate details about each character as the discussion becomes more and more personal. Bill is ANGRY, Angie is hesitant, Landon is conflicted, Brin is Korean (which she describes as a euphemism for angry and stalled), and Crissie is the navigator. Will this group of contrasting personalities come to a consensus before the car service arrives? You’ll have to go see the show to find out-which I highly suggest you do!
Reasons to Go:
- The characters in Chairs and a Long Table voice the frustrations and anger that artists of color across the country have been struggling with in this industry for ages (I found myself wanting to say “Preach!” many times throughout the show, but I resisted). One point that kept ringing throughout the play is that this is still happening in the 21st century. As Angie states: “A play set in China where the Chinese are mostly white people. In 2013! I feel like crying out of frustration.” So do we, Angie, so do we.
- There are a lot of epic monologues in this play, and I absolutely love them all! They each speak volumes about the struggle as an artist of color in a very honest way. Han did not hold back at all with this piece, and what’s so great is that the message lends itself to the actors’ performances. These actors are able to connect to their words in a personal way because the situation is all too real, and, in many ways, probably relevant to their own experiences.
- The cast is incredible! The dynamic between all of them was so organic, I believed they were all old friends who could let conversations get ugly and still make it out together in the end.
- This is a perspective that is not often seen but deserves to be heard. It’s so sad how infrequently Asian characters get to shine on stage, let alone be the central characters (There are almost more unicorns in the world than there are mainstream Asian plays). Lets face it, you need to see Chairs and A Long Table.
- It’s as funny as it is dramatic, which means equal parts laughs and tears.
- I know I already mentioned monologues, but Landon’s monologue about what multicultural means deserves its own number. “LET ME BE THE PROTAGONIST! At least once in a while.”
- Diversity on stage for the win!! Woohoo!
Who Should Go: Teens through adults
- The running time is 90 minutes, so go to the bathroom before the show!
- There is a nice bar on the 2nd floor of Theater Row where you and your theater companion(s) can congregate before the show and mingle.
- There’s only one more week, so hurry up and catch the show!
Themes: Race, Yellow-face, diversity on stage, equality, colorblind casting
Advisory: Some strong language used.
Show Information: Ma-Yi Theater Company’s presentation of Chairs and a Long Table runs through November 22 in the Clurman Theater at Theater Row, 410 West 42nd Street near Times Square. Visit the Ma-Yi Theater Company website for more info.
Check out this web post in response to the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s yellowfaced production of The Mikado this past summer.