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New “King of the Yees” Steeped in Chinese Culinary Lore

Chinese Fortune Cookies, oranges and “the Best of the Cheap Stuff” alcohol play a prominent part in the production of Lauren Yee’s  “King of the Yees”.   Our heroine must produce them in order to rescue her father.  Asian cultures are full of symbolism, and the play is a lively reminder.

“King of the Yees”  is directed by Joshua Kahan Brody and produced in association with Goodman Theatre.  The play continues its run in other cities as a lively work in progress.

We saw a performance at the Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre where the entire theatre was the stage met with great audience approval.

The extraordinarily lively, elastic cast also seemed to thoroughly enjoy every minute of the play, with each member adroitly played multiple parts.  The case in alphabetical order included, Rammel Chan, Francis Jue, Angela Lin, Stephenie Soohyun Park and Daniel Smith.

Linguist Noam Chomsky tells us, the Chinese style of language is rather spiral. Think of it as a snail-like form, with the speaker getting to the point in the middle of the shell.  Lauren in telling how she disappeared into the middle of the entertainment industry followed this principal beautifully.

The name and the meaning of family ancestry are at the core of this Chinese puzzle.  Here are the details in the author’s own words.

For nearly 20 years, playwright Lauren Yee’s ambitious father, Larry, has been a driving force in the 150 all-male Yee Family Association.  But when her father goes missing at a meeting, Lauren plunges into the surreal “rabbit hole” of San Francisco’s Chinatown  to rescue him in “King of the Yees”

The set, which comes alive in different ways throughout the production is truly remarkable, including looking at it up close.

What are the meanings of the symbols in the play?  The orange is a prayer or wish for good fortune and eaten on the second day of the New Year. This follows the tradition of  a historic Emperor so it also becomes a wish for officialdom if you eat them on this day.

Oranges become offers of well wishes when they accompany Chinese New Year gifts and appear as party table decoration.  Leaf-on proves its freshness and fond wishes.

A bride is given two oranges by her new in-laws, to peel and share with her husband on their wedding day. They symbolize a family wish for the couple to share a full and happy life.

The popular  fortune cookie, have come to be an expected American dessert in Chinese restaurants.  The crisp and not very sweet tiny tuille includes sesame seed oil, which lends it an “Asian taste” .  A small piece of paper with a “fortune” on it is tucked inside, usually with a witty aphorism or prophecy, plus a list of lucky numbers.  Whether urban legend or true, some numbers  have been reported to have become actual winning ones.

The exact origin of fortune cookies is unclear though it was definitely not in China.  Most likely they originated from cookies made by Japanese immigrants to the United States around the turn of the 20th century as part of their tea ceremony (minus the lucky numbers!).

When it comes to the “best of the cheap stuff, ” honored about in a reception cocktail, the Chinese know no rival.  They are known to be concerned with quality and cheap price and drive a hard bargain.  Amy Tan described this so beautifully in Joy Luck Club, where “quality” ingredients were

Now the studies have proven this true.  First, it was determined that for Chinese shoppers, Shopping is a pleasure, not a chore and they enjoy doing their research.  In a survey, 68 percent of Chinese survey respondents answered they were “happy or overjoyed” with their shopping experiences, compared to 48 percent of American respondents and 41 percent of British respondents.  Chinese shoppers also scored higher than both countries in the three key phases of the shopping experience—“being inspired, having fun, and learning something”—it found that

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New “King of the Yees” Steeped in Chinese Culinary Lore


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