Acting out gaps in Cantonese culture

SFU alumnus Milton Lim (left) shares the stage with Raugi Yu (centre) and Andrea Yu (right) in Gateway Theatre's production of King of the Yees.

SFU theatre alumnus Milton Lim has been busy over the past few years with his company Hong Kong Exile, creating and directing interdisciplinary works. He doesn’t often find himself acting in another company’s work, and he is very excited to be playing Danny Ma in King of the Yees at Gateway Theatre. He is also enjoying this role because he shares a cultural background with his character, which doesn’t often happen. “It’s satisfying to have that specificity.”

Playwright Lauren Yee based King of the Yees on her relationship with her own father, and the story follows Lauren as she embarks on a journey after the disappearance of her father in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Because the characters are based on real people, Lim said he did a considerable amount of research in order to properly represent his character. “But I didn’t have to dig deep about living as a young Chinese man; that research has been done,” he laughed. He did however have to learn a bit of Cantonese for his role.

Lim described the play as a very accurate representation of the gaps and deficiencies in knowledge that can occur between family members in Cantonese culture, allowing for a greater appreciation of the complexities of the culture. “For people of our generation, it’s parallel to Lauren Yee’s experience,” he said. He thinks all audience members, regardless of their cultural background, will relate to the father-daughter relationship, concerns about personal cultural history, and intergenerational gaps in knowledge. “I personally look forward to my parents and brother coming to see the show. I think it will be affectual; it will start a conversation.”

With fantastical elements and a lion dance, the play sounds like an entertaining ride with a strong, unpredictable plot. In a behind-the-scenes video produced by the Goodman Theatre in San Francisco, Lauren Yee described it as starting from a very realistic place and then exploding into a joyride.

There are other SFU folks involved with the show, including sound designer Stefan Smulovitz who is a music instructor in the School for the Contemporary Arts, and director Sherry Yoon who is an alumna.

King of the Yees will be presented at Gateway Theatre from October 13 to 22.