Huntington's "Tiger Style": Chinese Takeout

Ruibo Qian & Jon Norman Schneider in "Tiger Style"
(photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Huntington Theatre Company's latest production is Mike Lew's new comedy Tiger Style that he has described as involving wrestling with his cultural upbringing as an Asian-American. What, he asks, “is our place as Asian-Americans in this country” where the stereotype portrays his only concern to be achievement, where families don't even love one another and fall into the “trap of letting labels reduce their understanding of themselves”. Given its world premiere a year ago at Atlanta Alliance Theatre, the play has reportedly had considerable tweaking. Though it has more than a few funny wisecracks, it feels as though that tweaking has led to more than a bit of padding. At this point, the play and its cast are reasonably successful at showing their stripes; their barbs, though, are scattershot.

The time is now, in California (or, as the program states whimsically, “Irvine, America”). It concerns two adult siblings of Chinese immigrants, software programmer Albert Chen (Jon Norman Schneider) and his oncologist sister Jennifer Chen (Ruibo Qian). Al (“I've been to the nerd mountaintop”) and Jen (“happy?...I don't know what that means”) are both stagnating in the face of the American Dream. Their Dad (Francis Jue) and Mom (Emily Kuroda) are true helicopter parents, hovering and micro-managing (e.g. forcing Al to take cello and Jen piano) in the very strict style of parenting supposedly typical of Asian Americans made famous by author Amy Chua's memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. At work, Al has to face the fact that others like Rus the Bus (Bryan Donovan) get promoted ahead of him. Jen complains to her therapist (Kuroda again) about failed attempts by her and Al to go “full Western”, leading to their shared decision to try “full Asian” with a “Freedom Tour” of China. Following a very funny encounter with an immigration agent (Donovan again) in “the Shenzen Special Economic Zone, China”, they find equal lack of success.

Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, the cast is topnotch, as is the creative team, from the Scenic Design by Wilson Chin to the Costume Design by Junghyun Georgia Lee, Lighting Design by Matthew Richards, Sound Design and Original Music by Palmer Hefferan, and Projection Design by Alex Koch. Some of the funniest lines are headline-topical; some not so (e.g. “ultimatum...or ultimaybe”, or “there's always 'rash” in 'rational'”). Fortunately, the timing of the entire cast of five, especially the over-the-top Jue, is pluperfect, making some of the less impressive jokes ring stronger than they might otherwise in lesser hands. It often strains credulity, as when Al (in China) throws away his fanny pack containing all their money and passports in an illogical response to locals not speaking any English. The two siblings seem more than merely neurotic at several points in the plot.

Francis Jue, Ruibo Qian, Jon Norman Schneider & Emily Kuroda in "Tiger Style"
(photo: T. Charles Erickson)
In these days of pre-election angst, a good comedy is just what we all need, and this work will satisfy for the moment, though it may read better than it plays. It may suffice as an antidote to all the hysterical hoopla. One feels, though, about an hour after digesting this play, as with some takeout, hungry for more substantial theater.

No comments:

Post a Comment