Highlighting Playwright Young Jean Lee

Young Jean Lee (right)

Young Jean Lee is an American playwright, filmmaker, and director who came to playwriting through Shakespeare. For her PhD, she studied Shakespeare for six years at the University of California, Berkeley’s English program, and went on to write an adaptation of his play, King Lear. She was the Artistic Director at Young Jean Lee’s Theatre Company (2003–2016), a non-profit theatre company dedicated to producing her work. Lee wrote and directed 10 shows for the theatre company and went on tour with her work to different cities around the world.  

Her experimental and fearless nature has garnered her great acclaim from audiences and critics, including being hailed as “The most adventurous downtown playwright of her generation” by The New York Times. She is the first Asian American woman to have a play produced on Broadway and is also a two-time OBIE Award winner. Her plays include Yaggoo, The Appeal, Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven, Straight White Men, We’re Gonna Die, Lear, and Untitled Feminist Show among others.  

Her first short film, Here Come the Girls, premiered at Locarno International Film Festival as well as the Sundance Film Festival and BAMcinemaFest. Lee’s work is brought to life by thespians of all kinds, filling her plays with women and people of color in order to promote different body types and cultures.  

Her adaptation of King Lear is no exception. Lear does not actually include Lear himself; instead, Lee begins in medias res, commenting on time and ways we experience every minute of every hour. The actor playing the role of Paul (who is playing the role of Edgar) removes his false facial hair and walks into the audience, proclaiming through the fourth wall “You’re all so young. Even if you think you’re old, you’re not. Please enjoy this time, I beg you.” The play’s interpretation of the autonomy of young women who are and aren’t under the thumb of the men around them is complex and thrilling.  

The website dedicated to Lee, her work, and eponymous theatre company allows fans of Lee’s to get to know her vision.