Gascon Center Theatre
Reviewed by Madeleine Shaner
Byron Yee, a stand-up comic, member of a category not expected to have any feelings that aren't funny, movingly tells the story of being born in Wichita and brought up in Oklahoma City, where his house was the local Chinatown. The only other minorities in town were a black guy and a smart kid. His touching, well-performed solo show is funny and emotionally viable by virtue of its honesty. Byron relates his personal story of auditioning for roles that demanded he conform to an old Hollywood movie stereotype by speaking in a "Chinese accent," a pidgin patois he'd never heard and hadn't the slightest idea how to do. For a man who'd never thought of himself as Chinese, these were watershed experiences. Written and performed by Yee, directed by Glen Chin, this is the story of a man finding his roots and, in the process, becoming close to a dead father he never fully knew. When he began to investigate his heritage, he started to appreciate the enormity of his father's bravery in entering America as a "paper son," one who claimed to be the son of a distant relative who was already an American citizen. The journey to self-realization is well portrayed, Yee demonstrating that he can master accents after all as a tour guide on Angel Island—the Ellis Island of the West—relating the painful history of the Chinese immigrants who passed through the island's prison-like confines. Yee's story unravels with humor and poignancy, illuminating the dark corners of the immigrant experience that the ABC Banana (American Born Chinese: yellow on the outside, white inside) has only recently come to explore. With the help of the national archives, Yee finally met his father for the first time—and himself in the process. "Paper Son," presented by and at the Gascon Center Theatre, 8737 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Sep. 26-Nov. 2. $22. (310) 428-6502.