Is there anything more exasperating than a proud parent? In Lauren Yee’s King of the Yees—a meta-theatrical mashup of family dynamics, Chinatown power plays, and model ancestors—Lauren’s father Larry Yee takes his moment in the spotlight and runs with it to the farthest extreme, all while extolling the talents of his ambivalent daughter, who hadn’t invited him in the first place.
But there Lauren's dad is anyway, bearing a giant poster of her face, along with another poster of politician Leland Yee (no relation) for whom he's been a longtime volunteer. As a longtime member of the Yee Fung Toy Family Association, an “obsolescent family association” on Waverly Street, Larry is obsessed with all things Yee. So much so that he’s invaded the stage of his daughter’s play to talk about them.
In fact, though Lauren (played empathetically by Krystale Piamonte) has originally conceived of the play as a “two-hander” between actors “2” and “1” (Rinabeth Apostal and Jomar Tagatac), the unexpected arrival of her “real” father (the superlative Francis Jue) causes the play to fracture into a cacophony of players set loose on the stage. Meanwhile, her complicated feelings for her complicated father—and the Chinatown milieu he represents—add emotional resonance to what could easily have been a mere madcap romp. (King of the Yees runs at SF Playhouse through March 2.)
For Lauren, certain truths are unalienable. Her father, the “super volunteer,” is being used by Leland Yee; Chinatown is a dump; she might not have children. For Larry, “being used” is synonymous with “being useful”; Chinatown is a community rich with nuance and history; the Yee line is 36 generations strong and should not be allowed to die out.
The more the father and daughter talk over each other, the more distance they establish between themselves, even as their mutual fondness seeps through. But before they resolve their differences of opinion, a new crisis emerges. State Senator Leland Yee has been arrested on charges of corruption, and Larry has already been name-checked on the four o’clock news as a key supporter. With an ominous rumble of Mikhail Fiksel’s sound design and a flicker of Wen-Ling Liao’s lighting, Larry exits the stage, and the chase is on.
Under Joshua Kahan Brody’s direction, the first act displays definite lags in pace (though no more than what one can expect anytime a playwright’s proud papa commandeers the stage with voter registration forms and a wealth of historical anecdotes). But by the second act, the production settles into an almost extravagant groove, as Lauren embarks on a hero’s quest to find her father through the alleyways and storefronts of Chinatown.