What is a Yee? More specifically, what does it mean to be a Yee? In her zany and charming new comedy King of the Yees, playwright Lauren Yee explores the world of the Yee clan, which over the course of several generations has become one of a number of family associations that are pillars of the Chinese community in America. Although there are Yees to be found in cities around the country, the family’s greatest concentration is in San Francisco’s famed Chinatown, where the Yee Fung Toy (roughly translated as “Yee of elegant demeanor”) has become an important civic, cultural and political force, legendary for its public welfare, scholarship and charitable efforts. The current head of the San Francisco Yee Fung Toy is Larry Yee—Lauren’s dynamic, charismatic father and, not coincidentally, a central character in her play.
The other main character in King of the Yees is Lauren herself—and her struggle to find her own place among centuries of ancestors is at the center of one of the most arresting new works I’ve experienced in a long, long time. Far from being a straightforward exploration of generational differences amid cultural tradition, King of the Yees is a meta-theatrical, infectiously rambunctious odyssey, taking Lauren through the mysterious customs, labyrinthine politics and puzzling oddities of San Francisco’s Chinatown as she tries to solve the inexplicable disappearance of her father. As it progresses, her search becomes both outlandishly fanciful and intensely personal—perfectly capturing a daughter’s very real yearning for connection with a family and a father whose worlds often seem eons apart from her own.
Goodman audience got their first glimpses of this uniquely compelling play in a highly praised 2015 New Stages Festival workshop production, and I am very pleased to welcome Lauren and her director Joshua Kahan Brody (and a number of the workshop cast) back to continue their work on this ambitious, imaginatively idiosyncratic premiere. With King of the Yees Lauren has crafted a truly original take on the age-old tale of a daughter’s quest for acceptance. Sprinkled with wit, irreverence and surprising wisdom, this is a journey well worth taking, by one of our country’s most talented young writers. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.