This October, Richmond’s Gateway Theatre will present the Canadian premiere of San Francisco playwright, Lauren Yee’s newest work, King of the Yees that explores one family’s multi-generational search for cultural identity and a sense of belonging.
Take any Chinese last name, and you will find a corresponding family association with branches in every major American city. Most of these Chinese men’s clubs were founded over a hundred years ago – almost all of them right after the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. They offered support and a feeling of kinship for people whose close family members were living thousands of miles away in China. We all know the names; they’re the same in every city: Wong, Chan, and, of course, Yee.
It is something that Lauren Yee has thought a lot about. Growing up, it was all around her. For nearly twenty years, her father, Larry was a driving force in the local Yee Family Association. After absorbing so much of the atmosphere of her local family association, how could she not write a play about it? It provided her with the perfect opportunity to explore legacy and creeping obsolescence, and how even the ‘great and powerful house of Yee’ could not escape the effects of time and change.
King of the Yees tells the story of the intrepid Lauren Yee’s search for her missing father, Larry. Set amongst a backdrop of crumbling Chinatown buildings and strangely lifelike museums, Lauren races through history, space, and the theatre’s traditional fourth wall to discover her father’s story and chronicle a quickly vanishing remnant of American pioneer culture.
As the central figure in an anachronistic men’s club, Larry was the last person anyone would expect to simply disappear. To find him, Lauren embarks on a fantastic journey through the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown, where she is forced to confront a world that is at once completely foreign and utterly familiar.
From beginning to end, King of the Yees is a riveting theatrical experience that offers humour and heart-breaking honesty in equal measure as Lauren comes closer to understanding not just her identity, but also the one that her father has had to contend with for his whole life. The cultural and generational divides that separates fathers and daughters have rarely been explored with such a frank and unsparing lens, and never with more compassion than displayed by Lauren Yee.
She explains, King of the Yees is my attempt to cram everything I love and less than love about Chinese-American culture into a play.” She continues, “It’s also an ode to my father and the difficulty of passing down stories you never truly had a firm handle on. It’s about the communities we choose and the ones we inherit, and the inherent difficulties in navigating those fields.” In many ways, Yee’s story is everyone in North America’s story as we all, many generations later, continue to grapple with identity and hereditary expectations.
Gateway Theatre’s production of King of the Yees stars Andrea Yu in the title role of Lauren Yee and Jovanni Sy as her father, Larry. Raugi Yu, Donna Soares and Milton Lim round out the cast as supporting actors in a variety of roles.
King of the Yees is appearing on the main stage of the Richmond Gateway Theatre nightly between October 13th and 22nd. Tickets available here.
Gateway Theatre is managed and operated by the Richmond Gateway Theatre Society, a registered charity and not-for-profit organization incorporated in 1982. Gateway Theatre is generously supported by the City of Richmond, who own and maintain the facility—comprising a 540-seat MainStage, a 100-seat Studio, a rehearsal room, and administration and production space.