Belly Laugh and Be Moved at Young Americans

Lauren Yee is one of the hottest playwrights in America, and the world premiere of her latest work Young Americans, is showing now at Portland Center Stage. This co-production with Pittsburgh Public Theater, directed by Desdemona Chiang, is the perfect escape from the daily grind of work and childcare, and well worth a special night out.

Photo by Jingzi Zhao; courtesy of Portland Center Stage.

Young Americans is a heartfelt comedy, covering two cross-country road trips. Newly engaged immigrants Joe and Jenny connect as they travel toward their future together in Portland, Oregon. Twenty years later, Joe and daughter Lucy make the same trip. The performers explore what it means to belong, both in a country and in a family, all while making the audience belly laugh thanks to Yee’s signature wit and brilliance.

This is a show that relies heavily on the storytelling and comedic timing of the actors, and Danny Bernardo, Sammy Rat Rios, and Marielle Young do not disappoint. Bernardo especially, moves seamlessly between young and old Joe, making a character who could seem controlling and cowardly, instead hilarious, sympathetic and complex. Joe is controlling. He is fearful. But the audience loves him as his daughter Lucy does, as a messy package of compassion and control, good intentions and anxiety. Bernardo’s talent alone is reason enough to see this show.

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The set design by Junghyun Georgia Lee is minimalist and stunning. I was curious to see how a show covering two road trips was going to be interesting visually, with the majority of the action taking place in a car. The placement of the frame on a stage turntable introduces movement and interest to every scene and transition, and I hardly took notes I was so reluctant to look away.

As a Portlander, I loved all the local references and jokes. As a millennial, I’m still getting used to the experience of a flashback containing pop culture I actually experienced. Apparently the release of *NSYNC’s “Bye, Bye, Bye” was, in fact, over 20 years ago.

Your nights out are precious, and this show is worth it. The skill of the actors, the wit of the playwright, the beauty of the staging, and bittersweetness of the story will leave you feeling that your entertainment dollars were well spent. This is a show you can see nowhere else, written by a playwright everyone is talking about, performed expertly in the intimate Ellyn Bye Studio. If you’re looking for the perfect date night to impress your partner or friend, this is it.

With a runtime of only 90 minutes and no intermission, that’s a pretty affordable sitter fee, too. If cost is a barrier, find spectacular ticket specials, including pay what you will nights, here. Full price tickets start at $25. PCS also hosts BIPOC Affinity night, and audio described, sign interpreted, and open captioned performances. Masks are required until April 8, 2023; after that date, they will be strongly encouraged. Proof of vaccination is not required. Young Americans is in town through March 26, 2023.

Get tickets now, before they’re gone.

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Meg Asby
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