Happiness is the Only Life Plan: TIGER STYLE!

Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company
Written by Mike Lew
Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel

Oct. 14 – Nov. 20, 2016 Extended!
South End
Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA
Boston, MA
Huntington on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

(Boston, MA) After a certain point, it’s your own fault if your “messed up” childhood is still ruining your adult life. If you live in your own space, have a real job(s), pay taxes or equivalent, date people your parents haven’t vetted, etc., then you’re old enough to work out some of the trauma they caused you with a therapist or dominatrix. You can’t blame your parents for how you choose to live after you’ve moved out. Adulthood means you get to choose what that means. What that means is get your stuff constructively sorted.

Tiger Style! is cautionary tale of two adults who blame their parents for their emotional immaturity. Rather than blossom into adulthood after college, Albert (Jon Norman Schneider) and Jennifer (Ruibo Qian) failed to launch. They have jobs but no backbones; Al-bro can’t get a promotion or a girlfriend; Jennifer was just dumped by her live-in, racist, loser, fuckboy boyfriend Reggie (the hilarious Bryan T. Donovan). Unable to account for their failed life goals, they accuse their folks of bad parenting. Mom (Emily Kuroda) and Dad (Francis Jue) respond with love and sound reasoning. Al-bro and Jen’s epic tantrums send them across the ocean to China for solutions.

Not so thinly layered in Tiger Style! are the ethnic burdens Asian-Americans experience on a daily basis. Playwright Lew expresses his frustrations that he doesn’t feel at home here but he definitely doesn’t belong in China either. Life as a person in the minority is a mixed bag of racial stereotypes and societal pressures. Add to that his family’s expectations and it’s no wonder his characters suffer meltdowns. Albert and Jennifer don’t have the freedom to just be themselves. They aren’t allowed much opportunity to know who that is. Lew is able to convey these true frustrations concisely in his play. His actors are able to express them to even the most privileged among us can feel their sting. 

Qian and Schneider make believable siblings. Qian excels as high-strung, desperate, overworked Jennifer. As an actress, she gives and takes the stage with dexterity. In her character, we can’t wait to see what new trouble she’ll make for herself next. Schneider is pretty good as Albert. He comes out of his shell when his character acts erratically. Otherwise, he’s OK. 

Jue and Kuroda make sympathetic parents with iron spines. They love their kids but aren’t willing to accept the blame for their kids’ inability to grow up. Jue also plays Tzi Chaun, a helpful but nefarious stranger. His comedic timing and character work are great. Kuroda as the two Therapists offer insight into therapeutic practice. She absorbs Qian’s spastic energy and channels it into a very funny performance.

The visual and aural effects in this show remind me of “Fresh Off the Boat.” The sound design by Palmer Heffernan is 90’s hip hop inspired. The projection, while seemingly simple, boasts bright neon colors and images that pop. Alex Koch, they’d make Chairman Mao proud. The set design by Wilson Chin bends geographical location. Light it this way and we’re in California. Light it another way and suddenly we’d in China. Very clever.

No one gets out of childhood unscathed. Lew takes universal nest emptying growing pains and develops them into an absurd but not wholly inaccurate cross country escapade. Albert and Jennifer are very specific people in a very specific place and time. To assume that we, members of the majority, know what they, members of a minority, are going through would be foolish. Their lives are not ours but there’s no reason why their emotional journey to find out what it is they want from life can’t be relatable.

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