Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

The Far Country
Yale Repertory Theatre
Review by Fred Sokol

Joyce Meimei Zheng
and Hao Feng

Photo by T. Charles Erickson
In some ways, Yale Repertory Theatre's exceptional production of Lloyd Suh's The Far Country has the feel of a lengthy, perhaps issue-dominant New Yorker essay exploring the Chinese Exclusion Act. Live theatre, in this case, is even more exemplary since texturing and usage of projections complement the playwright's educational scripting and maximize an observer's experience. Director Ralph B. Pena fluently leads eight talented actors through two hours of oftentimes impactful and highly dramatic situations.

The play opens in 1909 San Francisco as an official named Harriwell (actor Joe Osheroff) peppers Gee (David Shih) with successive questions. Gee wants to return to China where his wife and three children live. He hopes he will be able to bring his son back to San Francisco with him to join in the laundry business. It's a rat-a-tat verbal exchange with a translating man called Yip (Jesse Cao Long) present as well. The obstacle Gee must hurdle is the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which essentially prevented Chinese migration to the United States.

Designer Kim Zhou provides just a table and chairs for that initial component, yet the production has already been amply flavored with Hana S. Kim's projected images, Joe Krempetz's and Xi (Zoey) Lin's sound and music, and windows which loom above the stage. The action shifts to Taishan, China, where Gee converses with a widow named Low (Tina Chilip). This focus is upon the release of the her adolescent son Moon Gyet (Hao Feng). Gee explains that if they do get to America, he will say the boy is his own. Low is a sharp thinker and a deal is in process. It might work if the teenager assumes a different name and identity.

Haze and other sublime special effects fascinate while the play relocates to Angel Island Detention Center. Moon Gyet attempts to persuade authorities that Gee is his father. Moon Gyet is resolute, but he is detained for what seems like forever. Those interrogating try mightily to locate inconsistencies which will make it impossible for Moon Gyet to realize his request, which is to return to China. The questioners, it becomes evident, are looking for flaws if not lies. They want Gyet, for example, to recall the exact number of steps at his house and elsewhere.

Later on, he does get to Taishan and it is 1930. The tenor of the entire play modifies to a mixture of romance with reality. It features the emergence of a pivotal young woman named Yuen (Joyce Meimei Zheng). Moon Gyet is creating a proposal for marriage.

Playwright Lloyd Suh's talents are multiple: He is precisely informational as he investigates an epoch marked by repression. The play also has poetic moments and, finally, a tender one as well. The audience is moved along from one genre to another as stylistically and thematically different scenes add to the artistic mix. The author's forte is his ability to write distinctive dialogue that is appropriate for various situations.

David Shih, as Gee, is determined, resolute and gritty as he carries the initial section of the performance. Hao Feng, playing Moon Gyet, is also disciplined and shows versatility as Gyet becomes older and specifically ambitious. Tina Chilip, in her role as Low, is smart, savvy, and will not be manipulated. Cast as Yuen, Joyce Meimei Zheng's turn during the final sequences of the production comes as something of a relief. Yuen is sweet, wise, and aware. Pena's adept, specific direction is necessary throughout because the tone of the dialogue and the literal atmosphere for settings necessarily adjust according to storyline.

The Far Country examines humanity or, if you wish, inhumanity. Thus, it bears contemporary relevance, given circumstances in many locales which are rife with conflict regarding the issue of immigration. That does not occur within the context of Lloyd Suh's play, but some of his characters, lacking compassion or empathy, are rigidly inflexible.

The Far Country runs through May 18, 2024, at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven CT. For tickets and information, please call 203-432-1234 or visit