Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Ann
Olney Theatre Center in the Maryland suburbs of Washington has staged Tiger Style! in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theater Lab, with audiences sitting on the two long sides of the black box space; with only four rows of seats on each side, every seat is a good one. The action takes place on Tony Cisek's cartoonish set: Chinese gates at either end, rows of small identical houses along the edges of the audience, fluffy clouds on the back walls, all illuminated (lighting design by Sarah Tundermann) in constantly shifting colors. Roc Lee's sound design adds to the humorous atmosphere.
Lew borrows the title reference from "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," Amy Chua's 2011 book about Asian and Asian-American parents and their expectations of excellence from their children. In the play, overachieving Jennifer Chen (Regina Aquino) is an oncologist who earned both an M.D. and a Ph.D. from Harvard, and "hasn't had fun in my entire life," while her underachieving brother Albert (Sean Sekino) is a computer programmer doing all the work for his team and making himself sick by not complaining. After a visit with their "tiger parents" (Kurt Kwan and Eileen Rivera), Jennifer and Albert decide to free themselves from Asian tokenism by going to live in China.
Director Natsu Onoda Power views the material with a sensibility that brings out the different satiric levels: the (slightly exaggerated) reality of Jennifer and Albert in California and the disorientation of arriving in the country of their grandparents without knowing the language or much about the national culture. The issue of "where we belong" becomes almost existential: each generation does what it must to survive and to try to make things better for those who follow, and that never ends.
The five actors animate the action and, except for Aquino and Sekino, shift easily among several roles. Specifically, Michael Glenn amuses in three incarnations of the clueless American man who thinks he "understands" the ethnic experience.
Olney Theatre Center