Written, directed, and performed by J. Elijah Cho, MR. YUNIOSHI was voted the Hollywood Fringe 2019 Best Solo Performance, a well-deserved award. Producers Ari and David Stidham present Cho’s clever performance in a guest production at the Santa Monica Playhouse with two shows in November and three shows in December 2021. A tour to New York (1/14-15/22) and Indianapolis (1/21-23/22) will follow the current performances.
In MR. YUNIOSHI, J. Elijah Cho approaches a touchy subject with humor and charm. For years, white performers have played African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians – all in whatever color face is called for by the role. Cho has focused on perhaps one of the funniest examples of ridiculous stereotyped casting on record to make his point. He focused on Blake Edwards’ 1961 American romantic comedy, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” adapted by George Axelrod from a 1958 Truman Capole novella of the same name. One of the roles in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” called for a Japanese man living a floor above the apartment rented by star Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn). We’ll never know if an Asian actor was considered for the role, but we do know that Mickey Rooney famously (some say infamously) became Mr. Yunioshi. In a cringe-worthy ethnically stereotyped portrayal of the Japanese photographer. Mickey Rooney – buck teeth, glasses, and all – was cast in the coveted role. AUDIENCE ALERT: The show features an interpretation of Mickey Rooney’s racially insensitive performance in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
True that in the 1960’s and earlier, racist humor was widely accepted in the American culture (remember Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer”?) As far back as the beginning of the nineteenth century, Caucasian performers donned blackface and played African-American roles (a staple in early minstrel shows). But change was coming, even if very slowly. Cho decided to speed things up in his solo show, MR. YUNIOSHI, where he, an Asian, portrays with gusto the Caucasian Mickey Rooney playing a Japanese man – and a caricature at that. MR. YUNIOSHI is a very funny show about a very serious topic, and Cho handles the prickly subject well. As chuckles turn into guffaws, audience members cannot fail to realize that there is profound truth underlying the humor – and that they are in effect laughing at themselves. Cho understands that an effective way to deal with signs of systemic prejudice is through the funny bone, which turns the mirror back on itself. It is no wonder that he has been lauded for his solo performance, which will evoke both laughs and groans as the message comes through loud and clear.
MR. YUNIOSHI opened the Crazy Woke Asian’s KUNG POW festival 2021 on November 11, 2021, with a second show on November 14, 2021. In Santa Monica, the production plays at 2 p.m. on Sundays, December 12 December 19, 2021. The Santa Monica Playhouse is located at 1211 Fourth Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401. Tickets are $20. For information and reservations, go online.