The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Yankee Dawg You Die begins and ends with Vincent Chang and Bradley Yamashita, two Asian American actors of different generations, in a private conversation on the balcony of a Hollywood Hills home while an entertainment industry party takes place inside. Nine scenes in two acts reveal one year of their relationship during which they move from initially feeling their differences acutely to their growing awareness of their similarities as actors, as American-born men of Japanese descent, and as humans full of powerful ambitions and abiding insecurities.

In the first scene the two men are strangers isolated on the balcony just as they are marginalized in the entertainment industry. Although allied by gender, profession, and dreams of success in the star system, they are divided by age, work experience, historical circumstance, and personal competitiveness. Meeting in auditions and in acting classes in the months that follow, Vincent and Bradley discuss their careers, the limited and stereotypical roles available to them, and their frustrations, accomplishments, and strategies for success. They learn each other’s life secrets and, through conversations that often move in rhythms of revelation, insult, and apology, develop a bond of respect and affection. Woven into their conversations are dreamlike interludes that represent their inner feelings and their past and present roles in film and theater.

In the five scenes of act 1, the established star, Vincent Chang, reveals details of his decades-long career as a Hollywood...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The seven interludes of private reflection and glimpses of theatrical roles, which are incorporated into the play’s nine realistic scenes, comment upon and dramatically contrast the exchanges between Vincent and Bradley. Like the entertainments integrated into traditional morality plays, these interludes operate as flashbacks or flash-forwards and reflect conscious or unconscious experiences, all of which add depth and complexity to the play’s characterizations and themes. The repetitious and varied racial stereotypes, seen by the audience in the past roles of Vincent and Bradley, constitute a cumulative critique of contemporary society. The faces and voices of Vincent and Bradley shown in the interludes contribute fluid, surreal depth to their portraits, an aspect further highlighted by minimalist staging, with shifting key words and thematic images projected upon abstract backdrops resembling traditional paper shoji screens.

The realistic drama begins and ends with Vincent and Bradley looking first at the real Hollywood stars partying nearby. However, the play also begins and ends with the image of the two men gazing upward at the North Star, a universal emblem of guidance. This symbolic scene affirms the possibility that the distortions and mazes of day-to-day struggle can be navigated if one’s gaze is kept on the larger picture, the whole of human experience. Thus microcosmic and macrocosmic perspectives in the conventional scenes of the drama resonate with one another to suggest the possibility of finding a positive path into the future.


(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Fichandler, Zelda. “Casting for a Different Truth.” American Theatre 5 (May, 1998): 18-23.

Kurahashi, Yuko. Asian American Culture on Stage: The History of the East West Players. New York: Garland, 1999.

Moy, James S. “David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly and Philip Kan Gotanda’s Yankee Dawg You Die: Repositioning Chinese American Marginality on the American Stage.” Theatre Journal 42 (March, 1990): 48-56.

Shimakawa, Karen. “Asians in America: Millennial Approaches to Asian Pacific American Performance.” Journal of Asian American Studies 3 (2000): 283-297.

Swanson, Meg, with Robin Murray. Playwrights of Color. Yarmouth, Maine: Intercultural Press, 1999.