Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

King of the Yees
Signature Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's recent reviews of Espejos: Clean, My Mama & the Full-Scale Invasion and Evita

Ashley D. Nguyen, Sylvia Kwan, Grant Chang,
and Jacob Yeh

Photo by DJ Corey Photography
King of the Yees, now in the ARK Theatre at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, is a rollicking and (more or less) autobiographical examination of growing up in a Chinese-American family in San Francisco. Playwright Lauren Yee (Ashley D. Nguyen) and her father Larry (Grant Chang) are characters in the play, but her character's intention of telling a straightforward story keeps getting sidetracked by external, even spectral, circumstances.

Director Jennifer Chang does a masterful job maintaining the balance between the elements that seem to follow a script and what comes across as delightful onstage anarchy. Scenic designer Tanya Orellana has configured the small ARK Theatre stage with audience seating on three sides; the fourth side grounds the action in San Francisco's Chinatown, represented by the ornate red doors of the Yee Fung Toy Family Association (an actual social club where Larry Yee is a member) and illuminated, glass-enclosed photos of Chinatown streetscapes. Small pieces of scenery appear and vanish as needed.

Nguyen is a likable presence as she first attempts to guide the plotline, then finds herself pursuing the more fantastical elements of her father's stories. Grant Chang's father figure is affable, calm, and self-confident until he realizes that some things are out of his control.

In addition to the two lead actors, three multi-faceted performers play a variety of other roles. Jacob Yeh, Sylvia Kwan, and Nicholas Yenson shift into and out of character(s) with the help of masks, costume changes (Helen Q. Huang's designs range from naturalistic to ornate and ceremonial to hilariously over-the-top), and clever staging surprises. Minjoo Kim's lighting design helps define specific performance areas within the open floor space.

Before watching the play, audiences should refer to an article in the program that provides information about the role of Chinatowns in American history and background on some of the specific people and places Yee references. (An unseen but important presence in the play is Leland Yee, a real California politician but not related to the Yee family depicted onstage.)

King of the Yees runs through October 22, 2023, at Signature Theatre, ARK Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington VA. For tickets and information, please call 703-820-9771 or visit

By Lauren Yee
Directed by Jennifer Chang

Lauren Yee: Ashley D. Nguyen
Larry Yee: Grant Chang
Actor 1: Jacob Yeh
Actor 2: Sylvia Kwan
Actor 3: Nicholas Yenson