Roars of Laughs in ‘Tiger Style’
at the Alliance Theatre
Since seeing the world premiere of “Tiger Style” last week, every Asian I see I want to say, “You have to go see ‘Tiger Style’ at The Alliance Theatre. Even if you’re not Asian, you should still go see it.
Mike Lew, who won the Kendeda National Graduate Playwright Award-winning play “Bike America,” which debuted in 2013 on the Hertz Stage at the Alliance Theatre, is at it again with another smartly written play. This time, it’s on the main stage.
Jennifer (Ruibo Qian) and Albert (Jon Norman Schneider) are first-generation American siblings whose Chinese parents reared them to excel in everything. They graduated early from Ivy League schools and performed together as kids as a duo at a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall, yet these 20-somethings still struggle with becoming well-adjusted socialized adults.
Jennifer, a medical doctor, is depressed over the man who left her, a stereo installer who lived in her home and off of her income. Arthur, a superior computer software programmer, goes unrecognized for his work as his less capable cohort gets promoted. Down on their luck, the two decide their problems are the fault of their parents, and set about changing their lives.
The first act starts out funny with parodies of Asian Americans but soon begins to resembles a television sitcom. However, laughs reign when the unhappy siblings refuse to be “dickless Asians” and confront their parents with the problems their strict upbringing has caused them. When the siblings journey to China to better understand their upbringing, absurdity ensues and the laughs follow.
There is so much that is smart about this play– commentary on politics, adulthood and unhappiness–but there was one part that felt so wrong. I couldn’t suspend belief and buy into Albert tossing his money and passport as I saw no impetus to make him do that. It seemed like a weak choice for keeping the siblings in China.
Nonetheless, Lew has created characters and scenarios that are enjoyable to watch. Many of the characters are played by the same actors. Mom (Emily Kuroda) is hilarious as the matchmaker, and Dad (Francis Jue) is a standout as the old Chinese man waiting at the bus stop and the Chinese general. “Russ The Buss” (Bobby Labartino) is fantastically funny as the international customs agent. Lew is clearly an outstanding talent and brings to my mind Neil Simon.
Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, “Tiger Style” runs through Oct. 18 at the Alliance Theatre.