Hollywood Fringe 2019
Epiphany at Tiffany’s.
Just so I’m perfectly clear, I’m going to write the following phrase twice in this review: “Mr. Yunioshi” is the must-see solo show of the Hollywood Fringe this year. It’s smart, fresh, clever, funny from start to finish, and exactly the kind of show you hope to see during Fringe.
“Mr. Yunioshi” revisits Mickey Rooney, legendary Hollywood actor who appeared in over 300 films during his nine-decades-long career, just as he, a white man, is cast to play a Japanese man in the new film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in the early 1960s. At the time this film was made, this sort of stunt casting was not considered so controversial. But many decades later, Rooney’s caricatured and culturally-insensitive turn as Mr. Yunioshi has grown to become a blight in an otherwise beautiful film based on an equally beautiful novel by Truman Capote, as well as one of the most infamous roles in the history of cinema.
The genius of this show, however, is that Rooney here is portrayed by J. Elijah Cho, an Asian actor who is also the writer. Cho addresses the audience deadpan a la Mr. Rogers (“Oh, hi. I didn’t see you there in my living room.”) and takes the audience along on his journey. Here, the tables have turned. Rooney is vain, egotistical, ignorant, but also charmingly befuddled by his predicament. Cho’s ace up his sleeve is that he portrays Rooney as a cartoonish buffoon without resorting to cartoonish buffoonery.
We follow Rooney as he first receives the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” script and incorrectly assumes a star of his magnitude will be cast as the romantic lead. He’s confused about his casting as a Japanese man, but resigns himself to give it his best. He bumbles his way through some embarrassing attempts at researching the role, getting encouragement from his old pal Judy Garland, and even winces when forced to play the role in the most unflattering possible way.
Cho’s performance is hilarious and air-tight. Underneath the non-stop laughter though, there’s a message about the importance of Asian representation in film and television. Kudos to Cho and his director Joe Wagner for putting together a production so fantastic that even a disruptive drunk asshole in the audience couldn’t ruin the magic for this reviewer.
As promised, I repeat: “Mr. Yunioshi” is the must-see solo show of the Hollywood Fringe this year. And since representation matters, go see it. -ZACHARY BERNSTEIN