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In March, Red Scare Theatre Company will stage the New Zealand premiere of David Henry Hwang’s Yellow Face. Cassandra Tse will direct the show, having recently returned from an internship at Signature Theatre in New York City where Hwang is a resident playwright.
When Tse first picked up Yellow Face she “couldn’t believe how funny it was, how intelligent and nuanced its politics were.” Her experience with Asian theatre in New Zealand is that it was usually “very serious, focused almost exclusively on tradition, mythology and ancient culture, and completely unrelatable to someone like me, a fourth-generation Chinese-Pākeha New Zealander who has never been to China.” Yellow Face was as a complete counterpoint for her; its ability to be “contemporary, witty, and not above poking fun at itself” meant that it was vital to bring this work to New Zealand.
A 2008 Pulitzer Prize finalist, Yellow Face is a deeply funny examination of race and identity in a supposedly ‘post-racial’ society. The play follows a fictionalized version of David Henry Hwang (Alex Rabina) who inadvertently casts a Caucasian, Marcus G Dahlman (James Cain), as an Asian character.
Rabina said he was surprised “when I realized that Yellow Face is my first role where I actually play an Asian. And not only an Asian, but an Asian that isn't defined as an immigrant or foreigner. He's sarcastic and politically motivated, but also insecure and immature at times.”
The play features a diverse cast from all over New Zealand. Aucklander Benjamin Teh, who recently featured in Flat 3’s popular webseries Friday Night Bites, stars as Henry Yuan Hwang, David’s father.
Matt Loveranes, whose play The Showgirl was staged by Red Scare in 2015, says that “opportunities like these come rarely for actors of colour, to be represented in a script of this quality with real humanity and to be able to play different characters with various quirks and foibles was too good to pass up.” As Loveranes says, the simple act of casting people of colour and allowing their characters to be funny and flawed is revolutionary and sorely needed. “As an Asian artist in New Zealand,” says performer Ariadne Baltazar, “it feels like aren’t that many opportunities”. Baltazar graduated from Toi Whakaari Drama School last year and Yellow Face is her first production since.
”With Asian characters still being played by white actors in Hollywood today,” says Rabina, “this play is as relevant as ever.”
The play also features Catherine Zulver and Mike Bryant (reuniting with Red Scare following 2013’s Right Dishonourable) and an innovative design by Lucas Neal, James Ruscoe, Lisa Kiyomoto-Fink and Patrick Barnes. Altogether they’re proud to present Yellow Face, a play that aims to explode our definitions of culture, identity and ethnicity.
Yellow Face runs from the 9th-18th March at Whitireia Performance Centre at 7:30pm. Tickets are $18 for concession, $20 for full price. This production is funded by Asia New Zealand Foundation. For more information about Yellow Face, please contact James Cain, Marketing Director at email@example.com.
Images by Roc+ Photography