David & Ari Stidham present “Mr Yunioshi,” written, performed and directed by J. Elijah Cho at Santa Monica Playhouse through December 19.
There is perhaps no more iconic a racial casting tragedy than Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi, the elderly Japanese man in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” What’s not as well known is how Mr Rooney navigated his casting, created the character and the rather enormous size of his own ego. J. Elijah Cho’s brilliant solo play, “Mr Yunioshi,” captures this disastrous moment in Hollywood history, as well as giving us a wonderful glimpse into the realities of Mickey Rooney’s huge personality and his weirdly inflated opinion of himself.
Cho does this with glorious humor, keen insight and the kind of sardonic, subtle and at times extraordinarily poignant prodding that only someone with his immense talent and particular perspective can accomplish.
In short, “Mr Yunioshi” is brilliant. No wonder it won best solo performance at the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival, the last Fringe before the shut down.
Cho opens the show with a song, establishing the play’s character from the outset. Brazen confidence, total lack of self doubt, and an almost psychotic propensity for self promotion. So, basically, Mickey Rooney!
Cho does not mimic Rooney, he’s far too clever for that. As a Korean-American man he does what Rooney did, but in reverse and without the bad makeup or the ridiculous accent. He simply ‘is’ Rooney. He also embodies a scattering of Hollywood 60s elite, with equally wonderful derisiveness and aplomb. In fact, he’s a genius at this kind of stealth mocking accountability. As we are guided through the process of Rooney’s profoundly tasteless portrayal, we are reminded that ignorance of offence and blithering stupidity is hardly an excuse for anything.
The only caveat to Rooney’s terrible performance, other than the obvious, and still regularly ignored, never cast a white person in an Asian role, is an opportunity for J. Elijah Cho to create this masterpiece.
Solo shows are positively magical when done well and “Mr Yunioshi” is absolute perfection.
Cho is utterly brilliant, and as the ridiculous story of the casting of Mickey Rooney as an elderly Japanese photographer living above Holly Golightly in New York unfolds, he manages to balance the surreal charm of it all with the unhinged reality of the act itself.
Each detail of his performance aligning with astrological specificity, artful, purposeful and absolutely delightful.
I hope this brilliant solo show returns to a stage somewhere soon, I hear there is a tour intended. So, let us hope the pandemic insanity doesn’t prevent it. For now, at least, you have one more weekend to see it in all its glory at the lovely Santa Monica Playhouse and I highly recommend that you do!
December 5, 12 and 19 at 2pm
Santa Monica Playhouse
1211 4th St.
Santa Monica, CA 90401