Literary Criticism and Significance
Written in response to Hwang’s failed Broadway play Face Value, Yellow Face received rave reviews upon its opening in December 2007. Praised for its satirical play on culture and identity, lively shifts, and divergent tone, Yellow Face placed Hwang back in the favor of critics looking for a playwright who is not afraid to challenge the status quo. Throughout the play, Hwang is critical of society’s views on the importance of race and ethnicity, the role the media plays in swaying public opinion, and his own role in exacerbating the hype. In the story, Hwang comments on the casting of White actors to play Asian roles, the often biting commentary of actors and news reporters, and his own role in both craving public success and living as a member of the Asian American community. Writing for The New York Times, Ben Brantley says, “Yellow Face lets nobody off the hook.” Mixing fact and fiction, Hwang weaves together a series of situations and does not hesitate to use the names of actors, reporters, media teams, politicians, and other public figures who actually played a role in the events mentioned in the play. Yellow Face recalls many of the themes present in Hwang’s earlier works.
In 2008, Yellow Face won the 53rd annual Obie Award for Playwriting given by The Village Voice for off-Broadway plays. Hwang also received the Obie Award for two of his earlier plays, FOB and Golden Child. Yellow Face was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; this was Hwang’s third nomination to date. Although Yellow Face was a major success in Hwang’s career, Hwang enjoyed his greatest theatrical success with the production of M. Butterfly in 1988, which ran for two years on Broadway. This Tony-award winning drama is a satirical spin on Puccini’s Italian opera Madama Butterfly and the real-life scandal involving French diplomat Bernard Boursicot and Peking opera singer Shi Pei Pu. Similar to Yellow Face, M. Butterfly explores the absurd nature of stereotypes in our culture and the tension between fact and fiction. Works of drama such as these have made Hwang the preeminent writer of Asian American drama.
In addition to his plays, Hwang has worked on several musicals, including adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Disney’s Tarzan. The list of Hwang’s works is long, and the list of his awards and affiliations is even longer. A celebrated dramatist and librettist, Hwang continues to create enticing screenplays for his audiences.