Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven and Other Plays by Young Jean Lee
Young Jean Lee has made quite the career of being the bad-child darling of the theater world. Founder and director of her very own Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company, Lee never hesitates in making her audiences squirm. No one is safe on her stage, including herself. Her debut play collection isn’t any different – the cover alone makes you cringe and then some.
The eponymous play, Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven, is Lee’s signature piece. [And I’m still kicking myself for having missed its various incarnations. I have made it a point not to miss her other shows since, and am eagerly awaiting the script for The Shipment – quite the memorable experience in New York’s Dixon Place earlier this season – which will be out in September. Watch this space.]
Songs begins with Young Jean herself on video, getting slapped, reacting, and fixing her hair afterwards. She’s being filmed (in the projected video – layers abound in Lee’s work) and has to do it over and over again to get it just right. Then the actual show begins … and the first words from the first character on stage, a nameless “Korean-American” who is “looking cute in a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers,” begin in monologue: “Have you ever noticed most Asian-Americans are slightly brain-damaged from having grown up with Asian parents?” And it gets ever more outrageous from there.
In the collection’s other pieces, Lee exposes religious leaders and followers in Church, self-helpers in Pullman, WA, English poets Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Byron in The Appeal, stereotypes of Asian villains (Fu Manchu and his daughter!) and overprivileged white people in Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, and the one-man-showman without any answers in the very short Yaggoo. What did I say about no one being safe? All that discomfort has a reason, I’m convinced, even beyond shock value. Because, you can’t turn away, you can’t laugh it off … by curtain call (and beyond), Lee has really, really made you think … whether you want to or not.