Not only is King of the Yees written by a local playwright, born and raised in San Francisco, but it is a San Francisco story. Set in and around Chinatown, Lauren Yee’s play not only features her Dad as a character in the play, “The King,” but features an actor playing herself, the playwright. As Lauren puts it, “I always felt that my father deserved his own play. King of the Yees is not only a love letter to my father, but to San Francisco’s Chinatown and the City as whole. San Francisco is such a wonderful, weird, quirky place. A place that allowed my family — for generations — to create a life for themselves. And every time I return, I see San Francisco changing.”
Four years ago, while we were producing in a word, Lauren’s amazing play which subsequently received the Will Glickman Award for best new play in the Bay Area, Lauren asked me if we could do an afternoon reading of a very rough draft of a new play she was working on. She set the whole thing up and put together a cast. I was blown away! Such an original way to tell a story, featuring the story of Lauren and her Dad and riffing off of current events in Chinatown. I had never seen anything quite like it. Very meta-theatrical, but with such warmth and affection for the Chinese-American community.
I threw my hat in the ring to produce immediately but as Lauren’s star was rising nationally, it took some time to bring the story back to San Francisco. First there was a production in Seattle, a workshop and then a production at The Goodman in Chicago, and then a production at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles. Amazingly, through the last three outings, Francis Jue, another native son and the brother of our board member, Geoff, has played the father and he will reprise that role here! Wow. It is such a thrill to bring these nationally recognized talents back to share their work with the community that nurtured them.
The Yee Fung Toy Family Association was founded by immigrant Chinese in the mid-1880s and the chapter building—which is also the National Headquarters—was built at 131 Waverly Place in Chinatown. Destroyed by the 1906 earthquake fire, it was rebuilt and remains currently on the same site. The richness of its history forms the backdrop for King of the Yees, whose title comes from the name given to the elected chapter chairman. The play asks us, “Who does San Francisco belong to? How do we stay connected to our past while moving forward in a city that is ever-changing?” What timelier story could we tell?