As part of its “Season of Healing,” Fonseca Theatre is offering Mike Lew’s “Tiger Style!” directed by Jordan Flores Schwartz. It runs through August 14.
– “Tiger Style!” reminded me that we see too few plays focused on siblings. Here, Albert (Sean Qiu) and his sister, Jennifer (Kim Egan), anchor the material. They are, by their own admissions, variations on the “model minority” stereotype. He’s the underappreciated IT guy who doesn’t stand up for himself. She’s a doctor who sacrificed happiness for a prescribed life. Together, when younger, these overachievers performed in concert at Carnegie Hall. Both are strangers to joy, an issue compounded early in the play by his getting passed over for a promotion and she being dumped by her loser boyfriend.
– They blame their parents, of course, and set out to extract an apology. Rather than continuing to push high standards, Mom (Tracy Herring) and Dad (Ian Cruz), surprise their kids with their “get over it” attitude, which launches the duo on an “Asian Freedom Tour” to China to rid themselves of the expectations that they believe have shackled them. That plot point alone should make clear that “Tiger Style!” demands extensive suspension of disbelief. By design, actions and reactions are exaggerated to a point of absurdity. Some of that adds to the anything-can-happen fun. Some of it puts up a barrier to full engagement with the plight of these characters.
– Opening scenes matter. And this play has a gem that plays like a Second City sketch – a good one. In it, Albert tries to temper his frustration when dealing with a stranger (Cruz, again) prodding him for background info. “My ethnicity is not a party game,” Albert blasts back and the line is both funny and insightful, a combination that the play strives for throughout and often hits.
– The high energy pissiness of the sibs can be grating and exhausting at times – and some of the social commentary feels redundant – but there always seems to be a sharp, unexpected (or both) line from Lew just around each corner. A Taiwan joke particularly delighted preview audience members. Yes, these times are challenging, but it feels good to laugh in a theater again. Comedies should never become a rare breed.
– After writing the above, I took a look at reviews of this play in previous productions in other cities. One writer included the phrase “You do not have to be Asian to appreciate…” Another felt compelled to draw comparisons to another Asian-American playwright (“It’s a style that reminded me of Lew’s contemporary Qui Nguyen…”). Both reviews bugged me. To use a word put in the spotlight in “Tiger Style!,” haven’t we gotten beyond treating plays that aren’t centered on white people as something exotic?
– I’m glad to see Fonseca Theatre remains true to its namesake’s commitment to only staging regional premieres. Part of the pleasures of attending a show here is that, for most, it will be the first – and perhaps only – opportunity to see a particular play. As such, I look forward to hearing the theater’s 2022-23 lineup and attending as many as possible.