Asian-American playwright David Henry Hwang had a bone to pick with Broadway. How could they cast a white actor in a lead Asian role in Miss Saigon? This was the 1990s! He railed against the injustice in South Park fashion: with a satire. In Hwang’s semi-autobiographical play Yellow Face, which won an Obie Award in 2008, the playwright DHH condemns the Broadway gaffe—only to commit his own yellow-face sins when casting his own show. The comedy of errors was a big hit when it made its Seattle debut at Richard Hugo House last August—critics called it "riotous," "hilarious," "provocative." And now it’s coming back for an encore, courtesy of ReAct Theatre.
Moses Yim, a 28-year-old Shoreline resident who’s a regular in SiS productions of Sex in Seattle, will reprise his role as DHH this month, before prepping to appear in Book-It Rep’s fall production of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. We chatted with Yim about Asian Americans in media, multiculturalism, and Bruce Lee.
How are you approaching the role of DHH? Is there anything you will do differently this year from last year?
DHH was the first lead role I’ve ever been given, so last year I was just really nervous about memorizing all those lines and not messing them up. This year, with some more experience, and having already done the play, I can focus on the arc of the DHH character as he goes from Tony Award-winning Asian American hero, to a hypocrite, to trying to fix so many self-induced problems. It’s been a lot of fun working through it.
How does this play resonate with your personal life?
I really started to appreciate being an Asian American a lot more. Some of the things that Yellow Face deals with are the casting of Jonathan Pryce in Miss Saigon, Mickey Rooney playing a Japanese character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, David Carradine being in Kung Fu instead of Bruce Lee.
Asian Americans don’t have that big movie star or TV star. Growing up, it was hard because when you play sports you want to be Michael Jordan or Ken Griffey Jr., and when you’re fighting bad guys you want to be Batman or Superman, and we Asian Americans don’t really have that luxury. We have Bruce Lee, who I am starting to have a major infatuation with lately, but he is pretty much it. So just the fact that Yellow Face even got me thinking about these issues has been a really big part of my life.
What do you want audiences to get out of Yellow Face?
I want audiences to realize how far multiculturalism has come, but how much further it can go. I just watched a British play called Absurd Person Singular. I love that the director cast my Filipino-American friend to play a British character, simply because he was right for the part. I give a lot of credit to the director for trusting in my friend’s talent and not overlooking him because he doesn’t look “traditionally” British.
What local artist should we keep an eye on?
I think Stephanie Kim, who has already started making a name for herself here in Seattle, is primed for big things. She’s great in Yellow Face and was a part of Seattle Children’s Theatre’s production of A Single Shard. I think she is definitely one to watch for in the coming years.
July 13–29, Center House Theatre, $15