SEEING 'RED': Chay Yew Discusses His Gay Drama

“Gay theater has become more diverse in terms of aesthetics and stories,” says playwright Chay Yew. “But let’s face it. How many gay plays are being done? Quite a few. Who are they about? Beautiful young white men. And they’re usually not deep. They affirm the image we want of ourselves, or they’re titillating. There’s a place for that, but it’s not my kind of gay theater.”

The 33-year-old playwright, who was born in Singapore but grew up in the U.S., got his first hit of gay theater from seeing Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart. “I came out utterly moved, rejuvenated, and angry,” he recalls. Still a communications major at Boston University, he wrote his first play, Porcelain, about a young Asian man who kills the would-be lover he meets in a public toilet. His second play, A Language of Their Own (which received a stellar production at New York’s Public Theater in 1995), portrays a gay Asian-American couple who break up when one discovers he’s HIV-positive. Next August the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego will mount Wonderland, a play in monologue form about an Asian-American couple and their gay son who gets kicked out of the house by his father and takes to drugs and hustling. Currently on the boards at New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club is Red, in which a best-selling Asian-American novelist tracks down a former star of the Beijing Opera, a gay father famous for playing female roles. 

Yew says he originally wanted Red to make a connection between the Cultural Revolution that destroyed a generation of Chinese artists and Newt Gingrich’s attempt to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts. But he also jokes that he wanted to write “a big chinky play” that would impress 60-year-old regional theatergoers. Inevitably, though, “it’s a very gay play,” he says, “because it’s about divas. All the characters are passionate about their art. Sort of like All About Eve.”

The Advocate, April 13, 1999