Playwright Lauren Yee — In A Word: Artist

I saw the world premiere of an engrossing new play – in a word by Lauren Yee, directed by Giovanna Sardelli at the San Francisco Playhouse Sandbox Series.  It prompted me to think about writing a post on several topics that have been on my virtual list for a while.

in a word

This San Francisco production is the first of four different productions of in a word scheduled to open around the country this year (it will also run in Cleveland, San Diego and Chicago) as part of a “Rolling World Premiere” orchestrated and supported by the National New Play Network.  I will  hold for one of my next posts writing about the NNPN, the alliance of non-profit theatre companies which champions and supports this interesting model of rolling world premieres which allows a selected new work to open in at least three cities across the country in the same year, giving legs and wider exposure to a new play.  I will also hold off on my intended profile of Director Giovanna Sardelli, who is consistently brilliant and whose national acclaim continues to grow.  I have now seen enough of her work to appreciate some of her particular strengths in pacing, actor engagement  and making and encouraging brave choices, all of which were so important to in a word.

So, that brings us to playwright Lauren Yee.

Lauren Yee

Lauren Yee

As a new works enthusiast, I have so often seen her name on lists of hot young playwrights and as the winner of this prize or that award.  Now I have briefly met her and seen one of her plays, it feels like a privilege to write about her.

Lauren Yee in person has such natural grace and warmth that it is apparent in a two-minute encounter.  Her play, in a word, was chilling. Every word in the script was a conscious choice by the playwright.  In addition to playing out a fraught and compelling story of a couple remembering and trying to recover or adapt to life after losing their son to a kidnapping, the language serves different purposes.  The dialogue is liberally sprinkled with words within and amidst the storytelling that ask you to examine elements other than or in addition to the words’ direct meanings – how they sound or what they sound like, what other words sound like them, what other words mean what they mean, double entendres or what else they mean, what they remind you of, even, it somehow seems, how they taste in the characters’ mouths.

SF Playhouse production of "in a word":  Fiona (Jessica Bates) and her husband, Guy (Cassidy Brown) put away “adult words”.   Photo by Fei Cai

SF Playhouse production of “in a word”: Fiona (Jessica Bates) and her husband, Guy (Cassidy Brown) put away “adult words”.
Photo by Fei Cai

In an interview last year with Zack Calhoon, Lauren said she loves work that is “language-based, elusive, and heartbreakingly simple.”  While “elusive” and “simple” seem potentially discordant goals for a play, I think in a word is the consummate reflection of  just that:  language-based, elusive and heartbreakingly simple. You will need to read reviews to have someone tell you more what the play is about — better yet, just go see it! I will say only that I enjoyed it immensely and may go again.

A native San Franciscan, Lauren Yee went to Yale and earned an MFA in playwriting from UCSD.  Her full-length, produced  plays include Ching Chong Chinaman, Crevice,  Samsara (nominee for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the L. Arnold Weissberger Award), The Hatmaker’s Wife (Outer Critics Circle nominee for the John Gassner Award for best play by a new American playwright), and The Tiger Among Us. She has won or been nominated for so many other honors as well I won’t describe them all, but it is a stunning list of prestigious awards, prizes, residencies and grants that together they reflect a clarion consensus that she is a playwright of rare and remarkable gifts.  

Here is a way to show you how prolific and successful she is:

So much of her work is being produced or worked on during this month of April 2015 she has some hard choices about where to be, when:

  • She could be watching in a word in San Francisco through April 25
  • or she could be working in rehearsals now of  in a word which starts April 16 at the Cleveland Public Theatre
  • and then there’s the studio production at DePaul University in Chicago of her play Hookman April 13-19
  • but then she probably wants to come back to San Francisco for the Playwrights Foundation reading of her play King of the Yees April 20 and 21
  • and right after that she might need to go to New York City April 24-26  for her play The Lost Girl, or First Chair at Keen Company
  • and, of course,  her award-winning play Samsara has its West Coast premiere starting April 30 at The Chance Theatre in Anaheim, California

That’s just this month. (There’s a lot going on in May too when, among other things, her play Hookman HookmanDetailpagewill have its world premiere produced by the Encore Theatre at Z Below in San Francisco and she will be in residence at The Hedgebrook Women Playwrights Festival in Seattle.)  Whew. 

This is a talented playwright.  She is young.  There are many plays to come.  I will not miss any chance I get to see a play by Lauren Yee.  I recommend you check out her work.


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