Plays are routinely adapted for the movies and television. But a YouTube adaptation of a stage drama is something new.
In a small theater on the campus of East Los Angeles College, actor Christopher Gorham was performing a scene from the David Henry Hwang play “Yellow Face” over and over again as a camera crew went through several set-ups of the dialogue-heavy sequence.
It was near the end of a three-week shoot that took place in late December. Gorham, who was on hiatus from the USA Network series “Covert Affairs,” was playing the part of Marcus, a white actor who is mistakenly cast as an Asian character in the play-within-the-play. Sitting next to him in the scene was actor Ryun Yu, playing the role of a playwright suggestively named “DHH."
The action was being shot on the theater’s mostly bare stage, with scenery to be added digitally in post-production. With each take, Gorham went through a series of perplexed expressions as his character tried to go along with the playwright’s insistence that Marcus -- all appearances to the contrary -- is of Asian descent.
“Yellow Face” was first performed at the Mark Taper Forum in 2007, before running at New York’s Public Theater the same year. The new screen adaptation premiered on YouTube over the weekend and can be viewed here. (You can also watch a trailer for the production.)
This marks only the second time that a play by Hwang has been adapted for the screen. The other was David Cronenberg’s much-maligned movie version of “M. Butterfly” in 1993.
Jeff Liu, who adapted and directed “Yellow Face," said that the structure of the play lent itself naturally to YouTube.
“There’s a lot of direct address to the audience in the play. So we’ve turned those moments into a kind of online video diary,” he said during a break in shooting. The movie also features abundant use of split screens and pop-up windows.
Gorham said that he got involved with the project through Liu, whom he has known since their college days at UCLA. The 38-year-old actor is in his third season of USA’s “Covert Affairs,” in which he plays blind CIA operative Auggie Anderson. The new season begins July 16.
Hwang dropped by the set during a brief stop in L.A. in December, but he said he wasn’t directly involved with the making of the “Yellow Face” movie. During a lunch break, he socialized with the cast and crew.
The Tony-winning playwright confirmed reports that he is working with “Fast & Furious 6" director Justin Lin on a screen adaptation of his latest play “Chinglish,” which opened on Broadway in 2011 and had its local debut this year at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.
Lin is an executive producer on the “Yellow Face” movie, which he produced through his online video channel known as YOMYOMF. Hwang said he couldn’t provide additional details about the “Chinglish” adaptation except to say that it is in development.