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Yew, Chay (b. 1965)  
page: 1  2  

In his next success, A Language of Their Own (1995), Yew explores the nature of love, desire, sexuality, and identity in the lives of four men (three Asian-American and one Caucasian), as they meet, partner, split, and reconnect in the age of AIDS. Contemporary, urban, and brimming with snappy dialogue, A Language of Their Own is light years away from the hopelessness of Porcelain; yet it is also informed by the challenges gay, Asian, and HIV-positive men face in their struggle to be fully acknowledged and included.

A Language of Their Own revolves around the doomed affair of Ming, an assimilated Chinese-American, and his Chinese-born lover Oscar, who is older and HIV-positive. The play explores the difficulties of love between people who are multiply marginalized. In the process, it also criticizes gay male culture's privileging of youth and beauty.

Yew may have dreamed that a play apparently as audience-friendly as A Language of Their Own would have a less fraught production history than Porcelain and As If He Hears. When he was casting the play for its premiere in Los Angeles in 1995, however, actors would enter the room to read only to leave quickly when they realized the play's characters were gay. Seeing his earlier experience with Boston University actors flash before his eyes, Yew finally put up a sign stating, "This play contain gay themes," to avoid further unpleasant surprises during auditions.

At the invitation of George C. Wolfe, the play moved to New York City for a successful run at the Joseph Papp Public Theater later in 1995, where it was directed by Keng-Sen Ong. There, the three actors cast in the Asian-American roles (Francis Jue, Alec Mapa, and B.D. Wong) had one thing in common in addition to their race: they had each played the title role in David Henry Hwang's prize-winning M. Butterfly on Broadway.

Reflecting on the fact that these three men had found little work following their star turns as Song Liling until A Language of Their Own, Yew said with characteristic candor, "I'm really angry at the entertainment industry that these incredibly talented actors haven't been able to do more since Butterfly." In his own play, Yew created strong roles for these Asian-American actors in a new, stereotype-breaking story and was rewarded with both the GLAAD Media Award for Best Play and the George and Elizabeth Marton Playwriting Award.

In 1995, Yew became the Director of the Asian Theatre Workshop at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles (a position he held until 2005). Soon after, he began working as resident playwright and director with the East West Players in Los Angeles as well. These institutions have provided Yew the possibility of developing projects that expand opportunities, and new kinds of roles, for Asian-American theatrical artists.

The prolific Yew has continued to write his own plays. Some of his recent works include Half Lives (1996), in which an Asian-American goes to Singapore on business, marries his pregnant girlfriend and brings her to America, where their son grows up and eventually comes to terms with his homosexuality; Red (1998), which explores the crackdown on artists during China's Cultural Revolution, but which was inspired by the American attempt to censor artists by reducing funding for the National Endowment for the Arts; A Beautiful Country (1998), which is narrated by drag queen Miss Visa Denied and explores the experiences of Asian Americans over the last 160 years; Wonderland (1999), about an Asian-American family's attempt to capture the American dream; Here and Now (2002), about an elderly couple; and A Distant Shore (2005), a sprawling history of Asian and Caucasian interaction from the 1920s to the present.

But Yew has also spent enormous time and energy directing and adapting work written by others. The range of his directing assignments has been remarkable.

He has staged many solo performances (including those by Sandra Tsing Loh, Margaret Cho, and Brian Freeman), as well as several larger-cast plays. Especially notable among the large-scale works have been a 2001 staging at East West Players of Philip Kan Gotanda's Sisters Matsumoto, about a Japanese-American family trying to restart its life after internment during World War II; a 2001 staging at Seattle's Empty Space Theater of Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Projects's The Laramie Project, about the vicious murder of Matthew Shepard and its lasting impact on Laramie, Wyoming; and, the 2003 world premiere at the Tanglewood Festival in Massachusetts of Osvaldo Golijov's opera Ainadamar (libretto by David Henry Hwang), about the spiritual connection between Federico García Lorca and Margarita Xirgu, a Catalan actress with whom García Lorca often collaborated.

Yew has also adapted García Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba for the National Asian American Theater Company (2000) and Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, which he retitled A Winter People and set in China (2002).

For the man who has said that he feels at home only in a theater, Yew appears very happy being busy with a rich mix of developing his own plays and adapting and directing those of others. What unifies nearly all his diverse projects is his concern with the experiences of sexual and ethnic outsiders and his commitment to expanding the scope and breadth of Asian-American theater.

John McFarland

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literature >> Overview:  AIDS Literature

In the twenty years since its first appearance in the West, AIDS has been the subject of a large body of literature, most of it written by gay men and much of it designed to expose readers as closely as possible to the emergency of the epidemic and the suffering of affected individuals.

literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Gay Male, Post-Stonewall

After Stonewall, gay male literature became focused as a movement, aided by the development of gay newspapers, magazines, and quarterlies and the founding of serious gay and lesbian bookstores.

literature >> Overview:  Asian American Literature

Asian American gays and lesbians voice richly multiple and diverse identities as they assert sexual autonomy in the face of stereotyping, homophobia, and racism.

literature >> Overview:  Censorship

Governments, publishers, editors, and even gay writers themselves have censored gay content in literature from the Renaissance to the present.

literature >> Overview:  Contemporary Drama

Since Stonewall, gay and lesbian drama has flourished, especially in the United States.

arts >> Overview:  Theater Companies

Gay and lesbian theater companies attempt to create their own communities, while also fostering a sense of solidarity with the glbtq community and educating the larger society.

arts >> Cho, Margaret

Korean-American bisexual actress turned stand-up comedian Margaret Cho has become one of the most prominent Asian Americans in show business and in glbtq culture.

literature >> García Lorca, Federico

The works of García Lorca, internationally recognized as Spain's most prominent lyric poet and dramatist of the twentieth century, are filled with thinly veiled homosexual motifs and themes.

arts >> Kaufman, Moisés

Award-winning writer and director Mois├ęs Kaufman specializes in theatrical works that explore watershed moments in glbtq history, such as the Wilde scandal, the murder of Matthew Shepard, and the experience of East Berlin transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf.

social sciences >> Shepard, Matthew

Matthew Shepard led an unremarkable life, but his shocking death transformed him into an icon of the glbtq movement for equality.

arts >> Wolfe, George C.

Tony Award-winning director, writer, and producer George C. Wolfe is known for his abiding commitment to bringing cultural diversity to the stage and a culturally diverse audience to the theater.

arts >> Wong, B. D.

Asian-American actor B. D. Wong came to prominence with his extraordinary performance in M. Butterfly and has since established himself as a talented character actor in film and television and as a champion of glbtq causes.


Graham Smith, Matthew. "Outside Our Skin." Lambda Book Report 12.3-4 (October/November 2003): 8.

Swarns, Rachel L. "Chay Yew: An Outsider Determined Not to Be Someone He's Not." The New York Times (March 21, 1999): 2.8.

"Yew, Chay." Contemporary Authors. Scot Peacock et al., eds. Detroit: Gale, 2002. 196: 464-67.

Yew, Chay. Porcelain and A Language of Their Own. New York: Grove Press, 1997.

_________. The Hyphenated American: Four Plays: Red, Scissors, A Beautiful Country and Wonderland. New York: Grove/Atlantic, 2002.


    Citation Information
    Author: McFarland, John  
    Entry Title: Yew, Chay  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2006  
    Date Last Updated May 23, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2006 glbtq, Inc.  


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