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THE YEAR OF THE DRAGON
is 1974 Frank Chin play still resonates with anger and frustration 26 years later. The Eng family living in San Francisco's Chinatown has been successful in the outward sense of the word. Pa Eng (Dana Lee) is hoping to be Mayor of the Year of the Dragon parade; Ma (Momo Yashima) appears to have comfortably integrated into modern living-shopping at the right stores and getting her philosophy from American movies. But daughter Sis' (Mimosa) first visit home, for the Chinese New Year and to introduce her Anglo husband, Ross (Brian Mulligan), to the family, has an immediate pall cast over it by the silent presence in the room of China Mama (Shizuko Hoshi), an aging Chinese woman in old-fashioned dress who speaks no English. (Her presence there refers back to the Chinese Exclusion Act, which forbade interracial marriage and refused entrance into America of Chinese wives. Pa has finally brought her from China because he wants to "die Chinese.") The facade of apparent normalcy is additionally broached as it becomes clear that this family is rapidly disintegrating: oldest son Fred (Keone Young) works as a self-hating tour guide in Chinatown, conducting his tours in the guise of the hokey, jokey stereotype of a cartoon Chinaman; younger son Johnny (Trieu Tran) has been in trouble with the law and shows signs of getting even more deeply involved, and Ma is teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. And they're all full of angst and very angry. None of their dreams has been properly fulfilled, and they've run out of the energy and optimism needed to fulfill them. There are no heroic characters here; it's clear that there will be no comfortable happy ending, and that the playwright believes there never will be as long as racial discrimination and division exist.Director Mako keeps the proceedings at a very high pitch, moving his characters through a blur of bitterness, fury, and murderous love/hate. The soul's yelling is sometimes too loud to hear, especially with Pa's accent and Fred's rage, but its fervor flames from the stage. Young is at his best, and his most chilling, as he interpolates his obvious, fake Chinaman routine into the variously Americanized (except for Hoshi's beautifully played China Mama) family gathering. Mulligan makes a marvelously awful character out of the amateur white anthropologist slumming in his wife's ex-milieu. (Chin here displays a similar degree of racism toward his white character as he believes exists toward Asians in America.) Yashima is nicely fragile as the situationally deranged Ma, and Lee, despite his tendency to overwhelm the words, is the fieriest dragon of all.Yoichi Aoki's set design excellently integrates the Chinese and the American of this Chinatown lifestyle, with just a hint of the Chinese displaced hometown in the scrawled graffiti that reads: "Carter sold peanuts yesterday. Today he sells Taiwan. Tomorrow he sells America." Dori Quan's costume design, Frank McKown's lighting, and Miles Ono's sound keep good company with the authenticity of Chin's visio
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