The Far Country at Yale Rep

Play by Lloyd Suh About Chinese Immigration

By: - May 16, 2024

If you grew up on the East Coast, you learned about Ellis Island as the entry point for millions of immigrants. Perhaps you have visited it. But what do you know about Angel Island?

Angel Island (opened in 1910) was the West Coast equivalent, located in San Francisco. It was the entry point for those attempting to immigrate from China, Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries.

The Far Country, now at Yale Rep through Saturday, May 18, is another play by Lloyd Suh about Chinese immigration to the US between 1880 and 1920. The Chinese Lady received a fine production at Long Wharf Theatre a few years ago before moving to off-Broadway.

Many people are unaware of the anti-Chinese sentiment in the western part of the US. In 1880, the US called for a 10-year exclusion of all arrivals from China, which became the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Immigration Act of 1917 created literacy tests and a head tax, as well as excluding new arrivals from anywhere in the “Asiatic Barred Zone.”  In 1924, the immigration exclusion was extended indefinitely, and a national origin quota system was created for all immigrants outside of Western Europe.

Despite these laws, many Chinese attempted to immigrate to the US, although they faced prejudice and sometimes violence against them.

The play opens with Gee being interrogated by an Army officer in charge of immigrants in 1909. Gee wants documents proving he is an American citizen because he was born here. The questioning is detailed, but he obviously succeeds, convincing the agent that he not only was born in the US, but is married and has several children in China whom he wants to visit. This is false: he was not born in the US but in a small village in China. He returns there and offers a widow to take her son (Moon Gyet) to the US by claiming he is his son; the mother must borrow money for a downpayment, and the son will be indentured to the Gee until the other part of the debt is paid off. The son will be able to send some money home.

It is Moon Gyet’s journey that is the focus of the play, particularly the intense questioning and months- long limbo he is held in on Angel Island. During his voyage to the US, Moon Gyet memorized a script that included excruciating detail about his life and those of neighbors, friends, and family members.

His interrogation is sporadic, continuing over months, as the army officers probe for any inconsistencies.

The questions sound ridiculous – “how many steps were there at your first home?” “What were they made of?” “Were they dark grey or light grey?”  “What was the name of the neighbor’s mule?” 

Both sides recognize it is a game of cat and mouse – the officer asking questions over and over again, and Moon Gyet (and others like him) answering.

Moon Gyet succeeds; later in the play, an older Moon Gyet returns to his village to see his mother and repeat the process. He will bring a young woman with him. It is 1930, and the questioning is less intense for women.

As I was watching the interrogations, I was reminded of TheaterWorks’ production of Sanctuary City; in that play, the two characters practice their “scripts” that will convince INS that they married for love and not a green card.

The Yale production is well-directed by Ralph B. Peña. Though at times, you might be confused, this is not his fault.  Gee, who we assume is a main character at the beginning of the play, soon becomes part of the ensemble once Moon Gyet immigrates. Gee disappears halfway through Act 1.  During the long scene of the multiple interrogations, cast members play multiple people; often you do not know who is speaking. Occasionally, one says, “This is how they got me,” meaning that they erred in some way or coaching papers were found, and they were deported.

The most touching moment in the play is when the detainees talk about writing poetry on the walls. The poetry is periodically covered over; but years after Angel Island closes, the putty and paint covering the poetry begins to chip away, and the heartbroken lines of poetry reappear.

Hao Feng is excellent as Moon Gyet, but I was also impressed by Tina Chilip, who plays his mother with quiet dignity and Joyce Meimel Zheng, who plays Yuen (the young woman he marries). Her character conveys a realism and confidence that engages you. Both Joe Osheroff and Haskell King are the army officers/interrogators. Each brings humanity to the roles.

The set and costumes (Kim Zhou scenic design and Kiyoshi Shaw costume design) create a realism. Zhou’s set immediately reminded me of the great hall at Ellis Island. Hana S. Kim’s projection designs were also excellent.

It seems strange that Suh brings back Gee in the last scene; he appears to be dying, and Yuen is talking about what she tells her daughters.

The Far Country, which was a Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist in 2023, reminds us of a history that we often want to forget.

Tickets are available at

This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and