Born in 1966 in Singapore, Chay Yew is the older child of a Chinese businessman and a civil servant. Growing up speaking Chinese and English, Yew attended the reputable Anglo Chinese School in Singapore. Yew left home at the age of sixteen to study theater at Pepperdine University but returned two years later to serve his compulsory stint in the army. While in Singapore, he wrote As If He Hears, a play about AIDS and unprotected sex. Because of the sympathetic portrayal of a gay character, the play was banned by the government until Yew made the character more effeminate; he, however, “refused to make him weak” (Breslauer 13). Yew returned to the United States in 1988 to study film and television at Boston University. For his master’s degree thesis, Yew wrote a controversial screenplay about toilet sex. Despite the faculty’s support, no actors auditioned for the roles, and the film was never produced. After graduating, Yew was offered a position as resident playwright for a theater company in London called Mu-Lan. His first project consisted of rewriting his master’s thesis for the stage. Porcelain was produced at Etcetera Theatre and later at the Royal Court Theatre in front of sellout crowds and won the London Fringe Award for best play of 1992.
Since Porcelain was first presented in the United States in 1993, Yew has written A Language of Their Own, which won the George and Elisabeth Marton Playwriting Award and the GLAAD Media Award for best play of 1995; Half Lives, which won The Straits Times award for best play in 1997 and was later rewritten as Wonderland; and A Beautiful Country, Red, and numerous short plays. In addition to writing, Yew has adapted and directed such plays as Federico García Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba; The Courage to Stand Alone (taken from the letters of imprisoned Chinese political dissident Wei Jingsheng); David Henry