What are some important props in the play "Yellow Face" and why?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One important prop in the play is the telephone. When DHH (David Henry Hwang) initially answers the phone, his father HYH (Henry Y. Hwang) converses through his phone's speaker. The speaker's reception is horrible, and DHH can hardly hear his father through the disturbance. He becomes visibly irritated and yells at his father to get off the speakerphone. HYH eventually picks up the phone, but he's annoyed at his son's short words. In actuality, DHH is distracted by the possibility of the Actors' Equity Association (AEA) reversing its previous decision about Jonathan Pryce.

Pryce is the Caucasian actor slated to play the role of a Eurasian character in the play Miss Saigon. After Asian-American activists registered complaints, the Actors' Equity Association barred Pryce from taking up the role. However, HYH seems uninterested in the controversy; he's more interested in the fact that DHH has made a name for himself demonstrating against the AEA. HYH just wants his son to become famous, rich, and influential; he believes that this is part of living a satisfying life. HYH raves about the plays Miss Saigon and Madame Butterfly, totally oblivious to the fact that DHH holds deep reservations about both plays.

So, the telephone is an important prop because it highlights how disconnected HYH really is from his son, DHH. He converses with DHH but fails to understand his son's priorities or concerns. This is because HYH and DHH harbor distinctly divergent views about race and life. The speakerphone's terrible reception symbolizes the breakdown in communication between father and son.

Another important prop is a TheaterWeek magazine (September 1992). The front cover shows an unidentified model on the page, advertising DHH's new play, Face Value. The front cover of the magazine raises the question of whether race is a useful construct or a mythological one. So the magazine is a useful prop because it introduces the play's main theme. DHH's play questions whether someone can appropriate the physical characteristics of a certain race to lay claim to a new identity and future material rewards.

Ironically, DHH inadvertently casts a Caucasian actor, Marcus G. Dahlman, as the lead in his play. Dahlman isn't Asian by any means, but his actual heritage isn't clearly defined in his looks. However, due to the protective clauses in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, DHH can't ask questions about Dahlman's race. All he knows is that Dahlman is a great actor, and time is running out to cast a skilled actor in the lead role.

DHH and his associate, Newman, ask Marcus leading questions, but Marcus cleverly deflects both men by making Japanese and Chinese cultural references in his replies. Ironically, DHH hires Marcus because he doesn't want to give the impression that he's racist. So the magazine highlights the main theme in the play: is race a useful construct or a false one that needs to be abolished? 

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Yellow Face

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