by Shirley Lorraine
Actors Explore Asian Consciousness
The Elite Theater Company, housed in Channel Islands on Victoria Avenue, presents a tale on their South Stage of complex discussions surrounding heritage, typecasting and discrimination in Yankee Dawg, You Die written by Philip Kan Gotanda, directed by Jolyn Johnson. With just two actors, the play chronicles a chance meeting and ultimate long-term acquaintance between a neophyte Asian actor (Tae Ho Yoon) and one of his heroes, an accomplished seasoned and lauded Asian actor (Eric R. Umali).
Yoon’s character, Bradley Yamashita, questions how to represent the Asian community in a dignified way, while Umali’s Vincent Chang, having been around the business for years, has accepted the realities of “playing the game” to get roles. The disparity between them create the basic premise of the play.
The two verbally parry their way through two acts as they compare their differing views of the business of acting and theorize where and when the truth should be lines drawn in the sand.
The stage is not encumbered by set pieces. Physical movement is kept to a minimum as the rookie Bradley clings to his desire to “stay true” to his heritage but not be typecast. Chang also performs with an economy of movement, preferring to offer little in the way of sage advice, which Bradley clearly wants. The use of video reels on the back wall (well put together by up-and-coming cinematographer Wesley Umali) adds some much-needed insights into some of the conversation.
I feel that this play should be and could easily be condensed to a one-act play. The dialogue laboring over type-casting Asians in certain roles certainly can apply to any minority and the stereotypes with which actors are easily pigeon-holed. As Chang points out, however, an actor’s life is one of constant compromise. To ensure longevity, an actor must be flexible and willing/able to step beyond and take chances, a step that the idealist Bradley seems reluctant to embrace.
Umali is excellent as the staid Chang. Diction is clear, the voice carries well. His understated inflections are a work of art. Umali’s portrayal of the seasoned actor is quietly solid.
Yoon fared less well in the diction department, and I found it quite challenging to adapt to his accent and vocal pace. Much like his character, he will learn from his chosen master.
The conversation never seemed to reach a high point or reach out with any pearls of wisdom. It just went on. Several other aspects of the unlikely friendship between the characters were presented as hints but not fully explored, leaving more questions than answers.
Yankee Dawg You Die is the last play in Elite’s current season.
The theater will be presenting a spooky opportunity around Halloween and then will focus on the next season opening in January. Check their website frequently for updates and happenings.
Yankee Dawg You Die continues through October 1 with performance Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. with one Thursday performance on September 28. www.theelite.org.