Young Jean Lee

YJLee_portrait_thumbnailYoung Jean Lee has been called “hands down, the most adventurous downtown playwright of her generation” by the New York Times and “one of the best experimental playwrights in America” by Time Out New York. She has written and directed nine shows in New York with her company, Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company and toured her work to over thirty cities around the world. Her plays have been published by Theatre Communications Group (Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven and Other Plays, The Shipment and Lear) and by Samuel French (Three Plays by Young Jean Lee). She has commissions from Plan B/Paramount Pictures, Lincoln Center Theater, Playwrights Horizons, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She is a member of New Dramatists and 13P and has an MFA from Mac Wellman’s playwriting program at Brooklyn College. She has received grants from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Creative Capital, NYFA, NEA, NYSCA, the Jerome Foundation, The Fox Samuels Foundation, the Greenwall Foundation, and the Rockefeller MAP Foundation. She is also the recipient of two OBIE awards, the Festival Prize of the Zuercher Theater Spektakel, a 2010 Prize in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship. She was the recipient of the 2012 inaugural Doris Duke Artist Award.
For touring information please contact: Aaron Rosenblum at

Click here for Lou Reed talking about Young Jean!



In Young Jean Lee’s latest experiment, UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW, six charismatic stars of the downtown theater, dance, cabaret, and burlesque worlds come together to invite the audience on an exhilaratingly irreverent, nearly-wordless celebration of a fluid and limitless sense of identity.
Premiered at the Walter Arts Center, Minneapolis, MN (2012). Premiered in NYC at the Jerome Robbins Theater at the Baryshnikov Arts Center (2012). Developed in residency at the New Museum in NYC (2010), Mount Tremper Arts, Mount Tremper, NY (2011), and the Baryshnikov Arts Center (2011). Supported with a space residency at the Park Avenue Armory.

Click here for Young Jean’s interview in Chicago Mag.

“…one of the more moving and imaginative works I have ever seen on the American stage…Part of what makes it so transcendent is its delicious ability to alternate the pain of being different with a sense of humor about lives not lived among the status quo…Lee’s universe is so emotionally complete that I yearned to be part of her utopia.”The New Yorker

“Young Jean Lee is, hands down, the most adventurous downtown playwright of her generation…[UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW] may well be her most daunting attempt to push her talent in a new direction.”The New York Times

“Who said the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak? Both are pretty damn fierce in director Young Jean Lee’s all-female, all-nude dance suite cheekily (but purposefully) called UNTITLED FEMINIST SHOW. In a scant (and scantily clad) hour, Lee and her gutsy dancers try on a dizzying variety of modes and masks to shake up gender norms.” - Time Out New York

“[With] six fiercely funny, fully nude performers…all of whom are nothing short of majestic…This brief, joyous, mute extravaganza of dance, mime, and movement reveals is just how badly a sex-festooned and fashion-fussy culture has occluded our view of the actual, functional potential of an unadorned form.”New York Magazine

“Never mind finding a category for this work: What matters is its genuine charm, wholesome and subversive at the same time.”New York Post


With her band, Future Wife, playwright Young Jean Lee takes the stage in a life-affirming show that anyone could perform, about the thing everyone has in common: We’re gonna die. You may be miserable, but you won’t be alone.
Premiered at Joe’s Pub, NYC (2011). Produced by Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company and 13P. Subsequent special presentation at LCT3 (2012) and run (2013).
OBIE Special Citation 2011.

Watch it free here.

For an article in Vogue on WE’RE GONNA DIE, click here.

“(Critic’s Pick) Sly, weird and thoroughly winning…Its forthright acknowledgement that life can be a rough business is bracing, funny and, yes, consoling.”The New York Times

“(Critic’s Pick) Enormously touching…Lee purchases our hearts with her bravery’s own coin.”Time Out New York

“We’re all gonna die. But not, if you’re lucky, before discovering artists like Young Jean Lee.”Huffington Post


3F, 2M
A radical and moving response to King Lear. A Lear-less Lear about children turning their backs on their aging fathers, Lee’s irreverent tragedy challenges our love of watching terrible things.
Commissioned by and premiered at Soho Rep, NYC (2010). Subsequent productions at Red Tape Theatre (2013).

“…she has refined a theatrical style marked by violent tonal shifts, racist provocation, scenes of banal naturalism decaying into infantile silliness, deliberately crude characterization and monologues in which Lee flays her psyche for our delectation. All these aesthetic strategies are present in the sumptuously designed and cunningly acted Lear, but there’s more: Just when I thought Lee couldn’t get more personal, she digs deeper to find a subject that makes us even more uncomfortable.”Time Out New York

“LEAR is a hot mess…powerful…fundamentally original.” – The New Yorker

“Lee uses [King Lear] and some beautifully unconventional additions to flesh out Shakespeare’s themes of loneliness, mortality and filial responsibility in gratifying and moving depth.”Variety

“(4 out of 5 Stars) Unconventional theatermaker Young Jean Lee has a gift for the riff…It’s not King Lear, to be sure. But it’s a rich relation.”Time Out Chicago

“Lee’s dialogue crackles like a 4th of July sparkler with moments of psychological insight…a play that begins with a blasé indifference toward paternal suffering is at last given over to an achingly heartfelt story of loss, suggesting that beneath all the plot’s wayward insanities there is an emotional constancy there all the while.”Chicago Stage Standard


1F, 4M
Cultural images of black America are tweaked, pulled and twisted like Silly Putty in this subversive, seriously funny new theater piece by the adventurous playwright Young Jean Lee. Ms. Lee, who is Korean-American, consciously set herself the uncomfortable task of creating what she calls a “black identity-politics show.” Combing through the images of African-Americans that dominate the media, Ms. Lee wields sharp, offbeat humor to point up the cliches, distortions and absurdities, turning the wearily familiar into loopy, arch cartoons.
Commissioned by and premiered at the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts and the Kitchen, NYC (2009). Produced by Young Jean Lee Theater Company.

“Cultural images of black America are tweaked, pulled and twisted like Silly Putty in this subversive, seriously funny new theater piece by the adventurous playwright Young Jean Lee. Ms. Lee, who is Korean-American, consciously set herself the uncomfortable task of creating what she calls a “black identity-politics show…Ms. Lee sets you thinking about how we unconsciously process experience — at the theater, or in life — through the filter of racial perspective, and how hard it can be to see the world truly in something other than black and white.”The New York Times

“This is so ingenious a twist, such a radical bit of theatrical smoke and mirrors, that, in rethinking everything that has come before …we are forced to confront our own preconceived notions of race. And to agree with Lee that we may not live long enough to purge ourselves of them.” – The New Yorker

“Lee confirms herself as one of the best experimental playwrights in America. Her language manages to be both feverishly strange and rigorously intellectual, and she directs her charismatic, talented cast with economy and theatrical dash.” - Time Out New York


4F, 1M
A Show About White People in Love.
Premiered at HERE Arts Center, NYC in co-production with Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company (2006).

“The best parodies start with great titles. So Young Jean Lee’s hysterically funny SONGS OF DRAGONS FLYING TO HEAVEN is perfect…directed brilliantly.”The New York Times

“[Lee] piles her deconstructive scorn upon ethnic stereotypes in SONGS, a sweet-and-sour parade of Asian minstrelsy and race-baiting that culminates in a perverse, soul-baring love scene between two caucasians.”Time Out New York

“SONGS is in fact an unflinching depiction of race in America, rife with stereotypes, anger and ambivalence-along with a deadpan literallizing of its tag-line.” – American Theater Magazine

3F, 1M
Young Jean Lee transforms her life-long struggle with Christianity into an exuberant church service designed to test the expectations of the religious and non-religious alike. Using music, dancing, and preaching,four liberal Evangelical Christian ministers with a taste for the surreal offer God as a solution to the hollowness of contemporary life.
Premiered at PS122 and the Public Theater and produced by Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company (2007). Originally commissioned by Performance Space 122, Vienna Festival 2008, the Wexner Center for the Arts, The National Performance Network, The Walker Arts Center, Philadelphia Live Arts, and Philly Fringe.

“[Young Jean Lee's] slyly subversive drama [CHURCH] ambushes its audience with an earnest and surprisingly moving Christian church service that might be the most unlikely provocation produced in years.” - The New York Times

“The plays of Young Jean Lee are as personal and probing as they are utterly demented.” - The New Yorker

“I will happily worship in the house of Young Jean Lee.” – Time Out New York


3F or M
Three ordinary, awkward characters in street clothes address audience members directly in an earnest, frequently disastrous attempt to show them how to live a better life.
Premiered at PS122 and produced by Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company.

“[Lee’s] new work has the deadpan simplicity of the plays of Richard Maxwell and the awkward, secretly suffering angst of a teenage diarist working through an identity crisis…It is an honest [work] that takes itself seriously, and that is refreshing.” – The New York Times

“Lee’s snaky, tart-writing and her understanding of theatrical conventions seem to exist only so she can subvert and frustrate expectations.” - Time Out New York


1F, 3M
William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, and Dorothy Wordsworth get drunk, hang out, and commiserate in England and the Swiss Alps. An irreverent, historically inaccurate look at the English Romantic poets.
Premiered and developed at Soho Rep (2004).
Published in Three Plays by Young Jean Lee (Samuel French, 2006) and in New Downtown Now (eds. Mac Wellman and Young Jean Lee, University of Minnesota Press, 2006).

“THE APPEAL is the happiest literary desecration since Amy Freed’s THE BEARD OF AVON, in which Shakespeare declared, ‘I have great thought-like things within my head.’” – New York Sun.


2F, 2M
The Chinese arch-villain Fu Manchu, with the help of his daughter Fah Lo See, attempts to steal the mask and shield of Genghis Khan from the white couple Terrence and Sheila, which will enable Fu Manchu to bring together all the “Oriental” nations in order to defeat the West. An absurd, provocative take on the “yellow peril” stereotype and Asian-American identity politics.
Premiered at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, NYC (2003). Subsequent production at Williamstown Theatre Festival (2005)..
Published in Three Plays by Young Jean Lee (Samuel French, 2006).


A whaler describes his social insecurity around the other men on his whaling ship.
Premiered at Little Theater (2003).


2F, 5M
The bizarre Korean-American Song family, living in Korea, terrorize a biographer and graduate student who come in search of the household patriarch, the famous Professor Song.