Yale Daily News

From Jan. 28 through Feb. 28, the Yale Repertory Theater is staging the play “Today is My Birthday” by Hawaiian playwright Susan Soon He Stanton DRA ’10.

The cast members include award-winning actors who have performed on Broadway shows and on television programs. The play will be the first in-person performance by the Yale Repertory Theater for almost two years since onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and will be open to fully-vaccinated Yale community members only. The performance will be streamed online from Feb. 20 to March 5, marking the Rep’s first time broadcasting a production. 

The play’s main character is Emily Chang, a young woman returning from Columbia University to Oahu, Hawaii after a nasty breakup and a stalled writing career. Chang’s idealized homecoming collides with reality as she begins to discover how little she knows about her family and friends. The play takes the form of a comedy about loneliness in the age of connectivity.

“One of my lines goes, ‘We need each other now more than ever … All of us are alone, but we need to appreciate our dependence. We are made up of thousands of others’,” Jeena Yi, who plays Emily, said. “There are times of loneliness [during this pandemic], but the play is a good reminder that even if you are feeling lonely, it’s momentary and you have a lot more friends than sometimes you think.”

The play includes a scene in which all of the characters are on video calls and another where they are united in person. “I think in this moment, when so many of us are separated by time, space and this pandemic, being able to just see each other without our masks and concerns and just to be together is really the thing that we need the most,” Director Mina Morita said.

Many of the characters in the play are Asian American. The main character Emily Chang is “a wonderful, beautiful and well-rounded character for an Asian American actor to play,” according to Yi. “There are not a lot of plays with an Asian American character [like Emily], so I am grateful to play the part.”

Francis Jue ’86, who plays Emily’s father, also hopes that the play connects a non-Asian American audience with the Asian American characters, especially due to increased instances of anti-Asian violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When I first started acting, I didn’t think there would be a place for Asian Americans.” Jue said. “Recently I started to get more characters and playwrights who are Asian Americans, but there is a long way to go. A lot of people still come to see us as a mystical; another world.”

Written by the Hawaiian playwright, the play also depicts the Pacific archipelago from an unconventional perspective. According to a note from production dramaturg Jisun Kim in the program, “[the play] asks audiences to see Hawai’i without the lens of consumer tourism. In this play, unlike common film and television portrayals of Hawai’i, there are intentionally no beach scenes. The play focuses on the kamaʻāina [Hawaii residents], the locals, and their lives in modern Honolulu.”

Due to University COVID-19 regulations, in-person performances of the play are open to fully vaccinated and boosted Yale-ID holders only. All patrons must show proof of full FDA-approved vaccination and wear masks at all times while inside the theater. The staff, backstage crew, and artists — when not performing on stage — will also be masked at all times.

According to Morita, the pandemic was “hugely difficult for the team.” 

“We’ve only been unmasked for a handful of rehearsals,” Morita said. “So imagine trying to act and direct with masks and doing lighting, design, all of these things … If there’s anything that pandemic has taught me and a number of our team members, is that the best-laid plans are changeable, the way we have to live is to be flexible and to be grateful for every day.”

Cast members are also “grateful” for the opportunity to hold in-person performances. Jue expressed gratitude for the enforcement of strict protocol by the Yale Rep, Yale University and the Actors’ Equity Association as it keeps the team and audience safe and healthy.

Today is My Birthday is going to be the first in-person performance for Yale Repertory Theater since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I think I’m not alone when I say that I’ve experienced many emotions in the process of producing our first show in nearly two years,” acting artistic Director Jessica Kiger said. “Making a play requires bringing together a community: artists, managers, technicians, and administrators invest months of their lives into realizing any project. For this show, we came into the process acknowledging how difficult it was to be separated from the joys of our work for nearly two years.”

When Kiger stood in front of the audience during the play’s first showing on Jan. 28, her heart “skipped a beat,” she recalled, feeling both “anticipation and a sense of pride” for the team’s work in bringing Stanton’s play to life. 

“It was truly sublime to witness the audience experience the show: to hear their laughter and to share in their moments of recognition. I hope the larger Yale community will join us for our live performances: there’s a magic in the collective joy that theater offers,” Kiger said.

Audio description and open caption of the production are available in the show on Feb. 19 at 2 p.m.