The San Diego Theatre Critics Circle announced their nominees for the 2010 Craig Noel Awards, and Mo`olelo’s production of Yellow Face by David Henry Hwang is nominated for four awards (Production, Lead Male Actor (Greg Watanabe), Featured Male Actor (Brian Bielawski), and Direction (Seema Sueko).

Read the details and see the complete list of nominees here:


Congratulations, Hanako!

October 26, 2010

Congratulations to Hanako for her video submission to Mo`olelo’s “What does yellowface mean to you?” contest. Her submission was selected by YELLOW FACE playwright David Henry Hwang as his favorite!

You can view Hanako’s video here:

And David’s congratulations message to her here:

meeting DHH

October 23, 2010

I have long been a fan of playwright David Henry Hwang. Directing YELLOW FACE, being in contact with him as we were working on the marketing, casting, rehearsals and previews, and having him join us this weekend at the production goes into my box of “favorite experiences EVER!” I’ve learned so much about directing by working on his brilliant script with the excellent group of designers, stage management and actors we assembled. But I’ve also learned so much about generosity and graciousness by spending time with DHH. He was patient with my directorial questions, generous with his time, and when he said he loved the production, well, it put me on cloud nine.

And as proof that this all happened:

In the words of HYH in YELLOW FACE, “Ahhhh, beautiful.”

photos from opening night

October 21, 2010

THEATER REVIEW: ‘Yellow Face’ cleverly spoofs political correctness

By ANNE MARIE WELSH – For the North County Times North County Times – Californian | Posted: Wednesday, October 20, 2010 1:03 pm

In ‘Yellow Face,” playwright David Henry Hwang skewers the absurdities of ethnic political correctness with a merry prankster’s grin and a loving son’s big heart. And in the Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company’s production of this spirited 2007 satire, founder-director Seema Sueko shows the instinct for comedy that she’s withheld from local stages for much too long.

Sueko’s sly direction and Greg Watanabe’s irresistibly energetic performance as the hapless playwright DHH make “Yellow Face” a must see, one of the best Mo’olelo shows in its six-year history. By turns hilarious, touching and provocative, it goes a long way toward atoning for the dutifully well-intentioned —- and vaguely dull work —- that sometimes sprang from both Sueko and Hwang himself.

The playwright came to national prominence with his acerbic and original “M. Butterfly,” which won the 1988 Tony award for drama. Sueko burst onto the San Diego scene with a terrific lead performance in the Old Globe’s 2004 production of Rolin Jones’ dazzling comedy, “The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow.”

Hwang’s real-life fame made him a spokesman for Asian American artists and other “minority” causes. And he thus became the media “face” of high-profile protests against the casting of the white actor Jonathan Pryce as a Vietnamese engineer in the 1991 Broadway production of the megahit “Miss Saigon.”

With buoyant self-mockery, Hwang depicts the less-savory aspects of himself in the lead character DHH of “Yellow Face.” The play begins with the casting controversy and the egotistical DHH serving as a spokesman against “Saigon” producer Cameron Mackintosh and the longstanding artistic practice of using white actors (in yellow face make-up and taped eyes) to play Asians.

But over the course of the evening, as DHH begins to see the absurdities into which his own ideas have led him, he becomes disaffected with his own rigidities and far softer —- and more compassionate —- as a human being. Shrewdly, too, Hwang demonstrates that in the end, it’s the quality of your creativity, not the color of your face, that makes an artist.

Still, even when DHH comes to terms with the non-artistic discrimination suffered by his America-loving Chinese father, “Yellow Face” never melts into sentimentality. It’s too consistently funny for that. Some of the best moments in Watanabe’s wonderfully fluid performance as DHH have him careening from principled spokesman to womanizing narcissist to exasperated and baffled defender of a fake Asian actor whom he has accidentally cast in a play.

To save his own face, DHH invents a Chinese-sounding surname and backstory for the actor, telling the press the performer is only partly Asian; he’s a Russian-Siberian Jew.

And then, to the writer-hero’s dismay, Marcus Gee outdoes him as a daring anti-discrimination crusader. Brian Bielawski plays Marcus with a winning combination of innocence and cluelessness; his scenes with Watanabe’s DHH, by now exhausted and beleaguered, possess a practiced comedy duo’s sharp timing.

Four other actors appear in a variety of guises (and sometimes genders). Jacob Bruce makes a solid San Diego debut as a nameless New York Times reporter who goes after both DHH’s father and the unfairly accused Chinese nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee. He’s just as good portraying various government goons and a couple of very different New York theater producers.

Albert Park plays DHH’s successful, patriotic and finally deflated businessman father and other, much younger Asian-Americans. Michelle Wong nicely distinguishes various girlfriends and gofers. Maggie Carney offers (too) broadly comic portrayals of actress Jane Krakowski, a casting agent and others.

It’s Watanabe, however, who carries the show. His seeming spontaneity matches Sueko’s playful direction and Hwang’s remarkable skill in mixing emotional tones and colors as this entertaining and thoughtful play rounds to a close.

“Yellow Face”

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; through Oct. 31

Where: 10th Avenue Theatre, 930 10th Ave., San Diego

Tickets: $22-$27

Info: 858-761-3871

THEATER REVIEW: “Yellow Face” is engaging Jean Lowerison – SDGLN Theater Critic
October 20th, 2010


Truth is often stranger than, and sometimes the same as fiction in playwright David Henry Hwang’s world.

Best known for his Broadway smash “M. Butterfly” (about a French diplomat who falls in love with a Chinese opera diva who turns out to be both male and a spy), Hwang likes to explore concepts like race, cultural identity and what it means to be an immigrant (or, as he puts it, a perpetual foreigner).

These issues appear in his 2007 play “Yellow Face,” along with considerations of press bias, political persecution and the nature of truth. It’s a messy but captivating mélange, served up in short scenes that flow into each other, and Hwang uses another mixture – of stand-up, satire, social commentary and family drama – to make his points.

Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company presents “Yellow Face” through Oct. 31 at the Tenth Avenue Theatre. Seema Sueko directs.

The springboard for the dramatic action is the 1991 flap over the importation of the British hit “Miss Saigon” to Broadway. A retelling of the “Madame Butterfly” story set in late ’60s Vietnam, the cast included paleface Jonathan Pryce as the Eurasian pimp.

In “Yellow Face,” Hwang’s alter ego DHH (Greg Watanabe), incensed by the cultural insensitivity of this move (“If Asians don’t get to play Asians, who do they get to play?”), writes a letter to Actors’ Equity asking them to boycott the show unless Pryce is replaced with an Asian actor.

Producer Cameron Mackintosh, calling it a “tempest in an oriental teapot,” threatens to cancel the show; Actors’ Equity backs down and the show goes on.

Later, casting for his new play “Face Value” (a comedy about the “Miss Saigon” dustup), DHH casts Marcus (Brian Bielawski), an obvious Caucasian, in an Asian role, despite his producer’s simple question: “Does he look Asian to you? If when he takes off his makeup, he’s still white … doesn’t that bother you?”

It doesn’t – until Marcus jumps full-bore into his new-found identity and gathers a following to whom he spouts platitudes like “Never let anyone tell you that what you look like is who you are.” (DHH is responsible for this, having fielded a journalist’s question about Marcus’ ethnicity with the dubious claim that Marcus’ Siberian Jewish father somehow qualifies the son as Asian).

Meanwhile (in another plot thread?), DHH’s immigrant father HYH (Albert Park), proud to call himself American, charms the audience but frustrates his son with his sunny assessment of this “land of opportunity” – until HYH has a run-in with the U.S. government over questionable bank actions.

Hwang even throws in the embarrassing Wen Ho Lee affair (the nuclear scientist accused of downloading nuclear secrets in the late ’90s) as evidence of the “perpetual foreigner” status of immigrants.

The press (especially The New York Times) takes a beating as well, for its own insensitivity.

“Yellow Face” boasts a fine cast anchored by Watanabe’s excellently conflicted DHH and Bielawski’s open-faced Marcus, riding the wave of an identity he didn’t invent.

Albert Park, Jacob Bruce, Maggie Carney and Michelle Wong are fine as well, moving with seeming ease from one character to another (together they play more than 70).

It’s a tribute to Hwang’s writing, the fine cast and Sueko’s snappy direction that “Yellow Face,” with its oddball structure and multiple plot strands, is consistently engaging.

The details

Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company’s production of “Yellow Face” plays through Oct. 31 at The 10th Avenue Theatre, 930 Tenth Ave.

Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.

For tickets, call (619) 342-7395 or visit

Check out the review of YELLOW FACE by James Hebert of The San Diego Union Tribune:

Play review: Witty, wise “Yellow Face” is subversive fun

// By James Hebert //

Sunday, October 17, 2010 at 2:44 p.m.

The black community had Martin Luther King Jr. Chicanos had César Chávez. But who will have the guts (or at least the gall) to stand up for fake Asian-Americans?

Here’s who: David Henry Hwang – Tony Award-winning playwright, minority-rights warrior and utter and complete weasel.

This might be a good time to clarify that the Hwang described here is not technically the playwright himself but a character by that name in “Yellow Face,” the comical yet slyly wise play now getting an ace production at Mo`olelo Performing Arts Co.

The real-life Hwang clearly is serious about the complex racial issues raised in his play, if totally unserious about his own image. As portrayed in marvelously smarmy style by the superb Greg Watanabe, the “DHH” in “Yellow Face” is a petty, opportunistic egotist with principles of iron but a spine made of Play-Doh.

The memoir-meets-fable quality of “Yellow Face” requires explaining. In 1990, fresh off his Tony triumph for “M. Butterfly,” Hwang led protests against the casting of the white actor Jonathan Pryce as an Asian lead in Broadway’s “Miss Saigon.”

That effort failed. Then Hwang wrote a Broadway play based on the controversy called “Face Value,” which also failed. “Yellow Face” takes in all that history, plus (verging on too ambitiously) the trumped-up case against the supposed Chinese-American spy Wen Ho Lee, the “Chinagate” campaign-finance probes of the 1990s and the latter’s link to Hwang’s own father, a prominent banker.

But Hwang adds a fanciful twist: In “Yellow Face” (which in 2007 became his second play named a Pulitzer finalist, after “M. Butterfly”), the playwright mistakenly casts a white guy named Marcus (wonderfully guileless Brian Bielawski) as the lead in “Face Value.”

When it becomes clear Marcus is about as Asian as Chinese checkers, DHH tries to cover up by inventing an identity for the actor as a “Siberian Jew,” and cynically pumping up Marcus’ ethnic pride.

It works too well: Marcus turns into a tireless fighter against prejudice, becoming in a strange way more “Asian” than DHH himself.

The play’s conflation of fact and fiction is perfectly in tune with Hwang’s ideas about the storytelling that goes into our social identities – the way, in T.S. Eliot’s words, we “prepare a face” to show the outside world.

And as smarlty realized by artistic chief Seema Sueko (showing a deft touch for comedy) and her multi-ethnic Mo`olelo cast (includng Jacob Bruce, Maggie Carney, Albert Park and Michelle Wong), the show proves as subversive as it is touching and funny.

YF on An Ergodic Walk Blog

October 17, 2010

Another YF ‘review’:

YELLOW FACE, by Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company

Coloring the American Dream
By Jennifer Chung Klam
Posted on Sat, Oct 16th, 2010
Last updated Sat, Oct 16th, 2010

“Yellow face” refers to the practice of casting white actors in the role of Asian characters – often using makeup to appear more stereotypically Asian.

Playwright David Henry Hwang returns to themes he previously explored in works like “F.O.B.” and the Tony Award-winning “M. Butterfly,” examining race, culture, identity and authenticity in his 2007 comedy “Yellow Face.” Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company tackles the semi-autobiographical satire with equal parts hilarity and heart, featuring an outstanding cast and Seema Sueko’s firm directorial hand to pull the frenetic fragments together.

The play mixes actual events from the 1990s with incidents loosely based on truth and outright fiction. It starts off with a recap of the 1990 “Miss Saigon” casting flap, in which Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce was cast in the leading role of a Vietnamese engineer in the Broadway debut. DHH – Hwang wrote himself into the play – leads the ultimately unsuccessful bid to replace Pryce with an Asian actor.

In response to the casting controversy, DHH penned the disastrous “Face Value,” which closed before its Broadway opening. This is where things take a turn for the fictional. In a series of misunderstandings, DHH approves the casting of a white actor, Marcus G. Dahlman in the lead Asian role.

To save face, DHH then tries to pass the actor off as Marcus Gee, Siberian Jew. It works all too well, and Marcus ends up the star of a touring production of “The King and I” as the King of Siam. He also becomes the poster boy for Asian-American activism, attending community events and rallying for Asian-American rights – and lobbing a few accusations of cultural apathy at DHH.

Incensed, and calling Marcus an “ethnic tourist,” DHH attempts to force the actor to reveal the truth of his non-Asian ethnicity.


Greg Watanabe, with Michelle Wong in thebackground, in David Henry Hwang’s “Yellow Face.”

Photo: Nick Abadilla

 At the same time, in a clever reversal, DHH’s father puts on a kind of “white face.” He loves American culture, believes firmly in capitalism, finds the story of “Miss Saigon” beautiful and imagines his “real self” to be an American icon like Gary Cooper or Jimmy Stewart.

The humorous and breezy, if scattered, first act deals largely with Marcus’ masquerade as Eurasian. But speeding through the history of the “Miss Saigon” casting fuss and the “Face Value” debacle – with the extensive announcements of dates, headlines and names and titles of various real-life figures – tends to get tedious. And a few too many phone and email conversations spoken to the audience, rather than as a dialogue, give the first act a disjointed, contrived feel.

Greg Watanabe’s high-strung DHH is a hilarious ball of contradictions, bristling at any perceived offense to Asians yet mocking whites for putting butter on their rice. Watanabe has great comic timing, and his excessive bafflement and offense at injustice provides much humor, though it especially underscores his calm sincerity in the play’s final moments as his character finds the play’s message.

Hwang’s play isn’t all self-deprecation, though. He also gleefully takes aim at the theater industry, journalists and theater critics.

Brian Bielawski gives Marcus a likeable, dopey sincerity and innocence. When DHH tells him it doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside, Marcus takes it literally.

Jacob Bruce, Maggie Carney, Albert Park and Michelle Wong do a fine job rotating between dozens of characters. Park gives DHH’s father a cuddly immigrant charm that turns to tragedy in the second act. Bruce is smarmy as the ostensibly objective <i>New York Times</i> journalist with an agenda. Carney brings much humor to her various roles including actress Jane Krakowski, and Wong is fiery as Marcus’ girlfriend and others.

Perhaps to drive the play’s point about identity home, the multicultural cast members portray people of various ethnicities and dialects. Women even at times give voice to male characters.

Projections across one large screen in the background and two smaller ones on either side of the stage help sort out the parade of news headlines and figures, and David F. Weiner’s simple and versatile multilevel set allows for a number of different settings. Lighting by Jason Bieber aptly moves the focus with the action.

In the second half, Hwang works in more polarizing news events of the era, including the 1996 U.S. government investigation into claims that China tried to influence American elections, and the 1999 imprisonment of Wen Ho Lee, who was accused of being a spy for China – and ultimately set free for lack of evidence. Henry Yuan Hwang, a prominent banker and the playwright’s own father, was also investigated for possible ties to illegal Chinese campaign contributions and espionage funding.

The charges all come together to paint a broader picture of the racism toward Asian Americans in the United States. And let’s face it – though less common, yellow face hasn’t gone away.

The second act fares much better than the first, with the main characters coming closer to finding their true faces, and the story lines deepening into questions of identity, legitimacy and racism. Is what we show to the public our true selves? Is how we self-identify more important than the identity we’re born into? Is race meaningless? Should it be? Or is culture more important?

These are the questions that will linger long after the final curtain, and stir the kind of discussions that are surely what Hwang intended.

About the author: Jennifer Chung Klam is an editor at The Daily Transcript and a freelance arts and culture writer.

In “Yellow Face,” a playwright finds himself

// By James Hebert //

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 1:39 p.m.

Greg Watanabe (left) and cast in Mo`olelo's "Yellow Face."

Photo by Nick Abadilla: Greg Watanabe (left) and cast in Mo`olelo’s “Yellow Face.”

The lead character of “Yellow Face” is an Asian-American playwright who goes by the initials DHH, gets involved in a casting controversy over the Broadway musical “Miss Saigon” and ultimately writes a theater piece about that experience called “Face Value.” (It flops).

“Yellow Face,” which has its San Diego premiere at Mo`olelo Performing Arts Co. this week, happens to be written by David Henry Hwang, the Tony-winner (for 1988’s “M. Butterfly”) who fits the rest of that description pretty snugly as well.

So, it must be asked: Is the DHH of “Yellow Face” the same guy as David Henry Hwang, resident of real life?

“I think audiences should draw whatever conclusions they like about that,” Hwang demurs.

Ask Mo`olelo co-founder and artistic director Seema Sueko (who is directing the production) what she thinks, and her conclusions are a little less coy.

“I think it’s a fictionalized, fantastical version of David Henry Hwang,” Sueko says. “I think he’s done a very generous thing. He has written himself as the most foolish character onstage, who makes blunders and mistakes and tries to cover things up.

“When someone raises his hand and says, ‘I’ve messed up,’ you can say: ‘Yeah, I’ve done that, too.’ ”

Hwang acknowledges that “Yellow Face” represents a working-out of his own often conflicting feelings about race and cultural heritage over the course of his career (which began auspiciously in 1980 with the off-Broadway play “FOB”).

DHH’s confusion “reflects my own awareness that multiculturalism, like any other ‘ism,’ contains its share of contradictory and absurd elements,” Hwang says. “I wanted to write a play that pokes fun at some of the excesses of multiculturalism, while also appreciating its value.”

The back story: Fresh off the huge success of “M. Butterfly,” Hwang helped lead protests (ultimately unsuccessful) over the casting of the white actor Jonathan Pryce as a key Asian character in the 1990 Broadway staging of “Miss Saigon.”

“Yellow Face” chronicles this history and more, but also weaves in a fictional plotline that has DHH accidentally casting a white actor as an Asian in “Face Value.”

“Yellow Face” premiered in L.A. in 2007 and went on to be named a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Sueko says Hwang (who comes to San Diego for post-show talk-backs Oct. 22 and 24) has been generous in assisting Mo`olelo’s production of “Yellow Face,” which is supported by a $15,000 NEA grant.

“He’s already had his New York and L.A. productions of this show, yet he’s given us a lot of his time,” says Sueko. “It’s inspirational, actually.”


“Yellow Face”

Mo`olelo Performing Arts Co.

When: Thursdays-Saturdays,

7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m., through Oct. 31

Where: Tenth Avenue Theatre,

930 10th Ave., downtown

Tickets: $15-$27

Phone: (619) 342-7395