Three generations overlap in the bright red circle painted on the set floor for Alice Tuan’s Last of the Suns (Ma-Yi Theater Company). One-hundred-year-old General Sun, known to his grandchildren as Yeh Yeh, once commanded 5,000 troops for Chiang Kai-shek in Szechwan; now wheelchair bound in California, he aches for human contact while journeying through his mind. His middle-aged son and daughter-in-law struggle to meet the bills and keep the family respectful of old-country customs. His grown grandchildren, Sonny and Twila, reject inherited cultural strictures but start to wonder what they’re missing.
Drawing its own circles, Tuan’s 1995 play encompasses many contours of Asian American experience. In more lyrical scenes, Yeh Yeh reimagines past, present, and future while conversing with the Monkey King and Eight Pig (Eric Steinberg and Kati Kuroda)—mischievous Chinese icons who visit him as imaginary friends. The indefatigable Ching Valdes-Aran marshals her impressive range as Yeh Yeh, shifting dexterously between his invigorated mental odysseys and frustrated immobility.
In the General’s retreats to reality, however, Tuan plays out a codified immigrant family drama. When Twila (Tess Lina) reappears after running away for five years, the family implodes as first and second generations clash. Each character is misunderstood in one identifiable way, and like dominoes each reconciles and learns to appreciate the others. Tuan twists this traditional tale enough to throw doubt on its face values—as when Twila recounts how her absurdly shameful finish in an ice-skating championship caused her to leave home. But director Chay Yew sidelines many of the family narrative’s apparent ironies where stronger satire might arise. The result is a surprisingly earnest reworking of the classic American immigrant story, despite Tuan’s occasional forays into funnier and more bewildering intersections of history, culture, and character.