Inspiration from the "Really Real": David Henry Hwang's Yellow Face and Documentary Theatre


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

According to David Henry Hwang, two literary influences for his Obie-winning play Yellow Face were Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie and Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night, both of which rely on a stand-in character for the author as he revisits painful autobiographical memories.1 In writing Yellow Face, Hwang did not want the same thing to happen to his literary doppelgänger DHH that happened to Tom Wingfield and Edmund Tyrone, namely, paling in comparison to the rest of the play's richly defined characters. However, the more he wrote, the less concerned Hwang became: "I found that…creating a character that I actually gave my name to…liberated me to make him a character…. It's kind of counterintuitive, but by naming him after myself he became more of a character."2 Aiding Hwang in separating himself from the fictional DHH was his recent performative turn in Greg Pak's short film Asian Pride Porn, where he played himself hawking "politically correct Asian porn."3 By embracing, in part, his highly self-conscious and at times self-parodying creation, Hwang imbued his literary double with much less seriousness than Williams and O'Neill did.


1. Hwang has spoken extensively about the influence of other playwrights and their plays on the format of his plays. The book-length studies by William C. Boles, Understanding David Henry Hwang (Columbia: University of South Carolina, 2013) and Esther Kim Lee, The Theatre of David Henry Hwang (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), discuss in general terms these influences across his works. For more specific discussions, see works like Dan Bacalzo, "David Henry Hwang's Golden Opportunities," in Esther Kim Lee, The Theatre of David Henry Hwang (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), 141–52; Kimberly Jew, "Gothic Aesthetics of Entanglement and Endangerment in David Henry Hwang's The Sound of a Voice and The House of Sleeping Beauties," in Asian Gothic: Essays on Literature, Film and Anime, ed. Andrew Hock Soon Ng (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008), 140–55; and Martha Johnson, "'Bring Your Own Translator': Communication and Changing Business Paradigms in David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross and David Henry Hwang's Chinglish," Text and Presentation, 2015 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016), 185–93.

2. Erik Piepenburg, "He Writes about What He Knows," The New York Times, December 2, 2007, ProQuest.

3. Paul Hodgins, "Face Time," The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, CA), May 19, 2007, ProQuest.

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