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He has a few identity issues

THEATER REVIEW

David Henry Hwang wonders what is truly authentic. Results? The play `Yellow Face.'

May 22, 2007|Charles McNulty | Times Staff Writer

These questions have been of enduring dramatic interest to Hwang, and "Yellow Face" finds him in fine contemplative form. There may seem something self-indulgent about a play in which the playwright has a central role. And some may look askance at the way Hwang brings in the story of his late father, Henry Y. Hwang, a prominent California banker who was embroiled in a front-page New York Times scandal involving money laundering for the Chinese government. (Tzi Ma plays both HYH and Wen Ho Lee, and "Yellow Face" draws parallels between their situations.)

But Hwang's tale, though undeniably personal, goes beyond his own narcissistic interests. He's trying to understand the crazy contradictions of being a minority in ceaselessly striving America. And his emotional investment in the subject and his ability, as a dramatist, to imagine the situation from multiple perspectives lends his discussion a felt wisdom that's a refreshing change from the shallow polemics we're too often bombarded with.

The play earns its stage time, even if Silverman has only so-so results with her actors, many of whom have the tricky task of playing multiple characters. Ma finds HYH's obsessive paternal voice and Kim captures Leah's edginess as the ex-girlfriend, but they become exceedingly broad in their sketchier roles.

Lee's DHH makes an attractive stand-in for the author, though he doesn't quite possess Hwang's artsy flair. As Marcus, Scanavino has ample boyish charm, yet his youthful exuberance sometimes gets the better of him, as witnessed by his tendency to flare into boisterous outbursts.

On a spare set marked by a large mirror in which the audience can see a hazy reflection of itself, the actors are given chairs to occupy when they're not directly involved in a scene. This is a common enough practice, though for some reason the actors look like souls in limbo whenever they sit down. Silverman, who directed Lisa Kron's "Well" on Broadway, hasn't created a theatrical universe the cast can be confident in.

Hwang's play deserves better. It may not have many answers to offer, but the questions it puts forth about who we are as a people cut to the heart of America's promise.

charles.mcnulty.@latimes.com

*

`Yellow Face'

Where: Mark Taper Forum,

135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays

Ends: July 1

Price: $42 to $55

Contact: (213) 628-2772

Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

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