paper son

<<written & performed by byron yee>>

Los Angeles Times Review of Paper Son


  ‘Paper Son’ a deft mix of comedy, gravitas  
Byron Yee has been honing his autobiographical one-man show, "Paper Son," for several years on the small-theater circuit. That polish shows in the play's production at the Gascon Center Theatre.

A veteran stand-up comic with the timing to prove it, Yee, who was raised in Oklahoma, explains how he went in search of his Chinese roots and discovered a rich and unsuspected past.

The title refers to the way many Chinese skirted the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act of the late 1880s, which banned most Chinese from coming to America unless they were the biological offspring of immigrants already in this country. By pretending to be the son of an immigrant, a Chinese man, in effect a "paper son," could gain admittance — but only after weeks of detention and interrogation by immigration authorities.

Yee's father, who came to America and became a mining engineer, was such a paper son, although it took Yee half a lifetime to discover that telling fact.

The action commences with Yee's hilarious account of a humiliating film audition. Indeed, Yee's material initially seems dangerously close to a mere stand-up routine, but as the play progresses, so does its gravitas. The latter part of the play explains how Yee unearthed his father's history through national archives — and how the information about his family origins altered and enriched his perspective forever.

Under the direction of Glen Chin, Yee brings a clockwork precision to his winning performance. At the curtain call, Yee offers to help other Chinese Americans search the archives for their own histories. It's a touching final gesture in a touching, funny show.

--F. Kathleen Foley

"Paper Son," Gascon Center Theatre, 8737 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Nov. 2. $22. (310) 428-6502. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

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