Toeing the line between reality and fiction, UCRs Department of Theater, Film, and Digital Productions (TFDP) rendition of “Yellow Face,” tackles and questions the construct of race. Director Reena Dutt successfully recreated the David Henry Hwang masterpiece, utilizing only nine people to play every role as actors constantly rotated between characters.

A hush fell over the crowd, a single spotlight projected over Marcus G. Dahlman (Ryan Ansara) as he narrates an email addressed to David Henry Hwang (Ethan Dizon), detailing his life-changing journey through China during his public disappearance. Set in 1990, “Yellow Face” springs right into action with the controversial casting of a white actor for an Asian role in “Miss Saigon.” Outraged, David Henry Hwang (DHH) publicly condemns and protests the production; despite his best efforts, the play continues to be a success without so much as a cast change.

“Ring-ring…” during a phone call with his son, Henry Hwang (Pier Garma), possessed by the American Dream, rambles on about “Miss Saigon,” claiming the piece to be inspirational to Asian Americans everywhere. Despite DHH’s protest to the production, his father is insistent that any media exposure is good, and that David was instrumental in the success of “Miss Saigon.” Convinced his father is misguided, DHH attempts to explain the plot; instead, his father’s words inspire a new play.

After countless weeks of auditions for DHH’s new production, “Face Value,” and only three weeks left till rehearsal begins, the production has yet to find an Asian male lead. With what appears to be a stroke of luck, or a curse, Marcus G. Dahlman auditioned for and received the lead role in “Yellow Face.” Regardless of questions from his team about Marcus’ race, DHH is convinced Marcus is Asian.


Prevented from simply asking Marcus what his ethnicity was by the law, the team of “Face Value” was forced to get creative. The truth about Marcus’ heritage was ultimately uncovered through a drunken, and flirtatious, conversation with the plays casting director; Marcus is Jewish. After hearing the news, a panicked DHH covers his hypocrisy.

In an attempt to chastise “Miss Saigon,” DHH unintentionally became the thing he protests. Before release, “Face Value,” held a panel with Director DHH and star Marcus Gee — also known as Marcus G. Dahlman. Often interjecting, or out right answering questions for him, DHH disguises Marcus as a “Euro-Asian, Siberian-Jew.” With his new identity, “Marcus Gee” is warmly welcomed into the Asian community.

Despite the extreme backlash from news media outlets, DHH actively protested the yellow face in “Miss Saigon.” Yet, he still forced Marcus into an Asian disguise. Because of the deep trust and respect between DHH and the Asian community, he was easily able to integrate Marcus, and any questions towards Marcus’s race were pushed off as racism. Marcus Gee, during the panel, shared stories of childhood where he felt targeted because of his race. Being white, he has no true way of relating to the community he is speaking to. Marcus, unlike his Asian “counterparts,” wears his “ethnicity” at his convenience, choosing to be Asian or white at his own whims. DHH walks through life as an Asian American, something Marcus will never truly understand.

Asian hate is on the rise, with many Asian Americans under investigation by the federal government for funneling Chinese money into American politics in order to influence elections. These average American citizens were guilty of donating to the Clinton campaign. A crime, in the case of Wen-Ho-Lee, punishable by extreme interogation methods and torture. Marcus Gee, invigorated by his false reality, spearheaded Justice campaigns for “his” community. Although Marcus Gee reached out to DHH to join in on the campaign, all DHH wanted from Marcus was to be left alone. He is convinced that Marcus Gee is obsessed with him, not only because of his recent activism but he is also dating DHH’s ex-girlfriend.

Enraged, DHH calls Marcus’ mother to tell her that her son is pretending to be Asian American. Marcus’ mother is insistent that he is simply acting Asian American, because he is an actor. Fiercely defending her son, Marcus’ mother makes the claim that race is irrelevant, continuing to support her son no matter what race he plays.

As if DHH did not have enough to deal with, his fathers bank is now under investigation for embezzling Chinese funds. Caught up in his idealism and ignorant to the bolstering anti-Chinese American attitudes, Henry Hwang is convinced that if indicted he can woo the people to his favor. An unnamed reporter reaches out to DHH to have an “off-the-record” conversation to clear his name.


Unnamed reporter and DHH meet up for coffee, and DHH is manipulated into going on the record. DHH is questioned about his involvement in his fathers bank, making the claim that he is simply a nepotism hire and had no such knowledge of the bank’s financials. The reporter accuses DHH of aiding the bank in receiving illegal funds from China in attempt to fight the “white power.” DHH was appalled by the insinuation that his father would ever participate in anything anti-American. The self proclaimed “agendaless” reporter attempted to position Chinese and Asian as conflicting identities to Americans. DHH, catching the reporter in a slip of the tongue, and on her tape recorder, prevented the reporter’s latest bit of misinformation from making the front page. DHH left the table feeling inspired for his next play featuring the “agendaless,” nameless reporter writing smear campaigns about Asian Americans.

After diagnosis with an aggressive form of cancer, DHHs father unfortunately passed away. Marcus came to offer DHH his condolences; the pair attempted to make amends for the white stain they created in the Asian community. DHH believed they should come clean about augmenting Marcus’ identity so he could play a character.

Before the two have a chance to undo their mistakes, DHH breaks the fourth wall and reveals that Marcus Gee or Marcus G. Dahlman is not real, but rather a character in a play he created to help his audience understand race. Marcus Gee also serves a personal purpose for DHH, as a manifestation of his father, a man who persevered through all of life’s obstacles to achieve greatness. Pier Garma’s performance as Henry Hwang, truly encapsulated the spirit and drive of DHH’s father. A true believer in the American Dream, the actor had the audience convinced that America is a place for everyone to succeed.

Before parting ways, Marcus Gee requests that DHH writes him a happy ending. The play ends like a perfect sandwich, with a single spotlight projected over Marcus as he narrates an email addressed to David Henry Hwang detailing his life changing travels to China.

Exploring the intersections between politics, media and race, “Yellow Face” captivated the audience’s attention. Seamlessly transporting them to 1990s NYC, the production shed light on the deep rooted anti-Asian attitudes in America. “Yellow face” forced the audience to question the true meaning of race, and their own reality within American society.

Verdict: “Yellow Face” was a smashing success, properly shedding light to anti-Asian American attitudes and forcing the audience to question what race really means.