The Take Away

  • This was a very fun and meaningful theater experience for me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show before that so particularly delved in the Asian American experience. I felt like I got a unique look into a culture outside of mine. The show was very funny, many greatly set up comedic moments. The entire cast did a great job, with extra kudos to Arlen Shane Hancock, Anita Holland, and Daniel Kim who executed multiple characters and many quick changes.

  • A pretty good production, with some stylistic inconsistencies perhaps, and ultimately still really, really important for me (and the whole damn city) to see.

  • With a perhaps rocky start, this was a really solid show that was smartly crafted and performed, about an experience we don’t often see on our stages, which was really important to watch.

 

In Our Pockets

Steele

I didn’t come into the show with any preconceived notions. I actually didn’t know much of anything about it besides it was being presented by PAPA. I was a clean slate.

 

Elias

I am an active member of Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists and gave a small amount of labor to the production. I know almost everyone involved in the production personally.

 

Linor

I know of and support PAPA’s work, but I didn’t work on the show and only tangentially know some of the people who made it.

 

Design

Steele

Lights set the scene and mood for individual locations and I experienced really clean movement of lights up and down between quick scene changes from stage manager Melody Wong. 

Elias

The lights mostly did a competent job of keeping the show lit and setting mood for scenes, though I downstage left was underdeveloped. The overall lighting design felt a little stylistically inconsistent, which may have been a directing issue.

Linor

I agree with all of that; the lighting design felt at some points patchy, but not in a way that fully distracted me from the action onstage

Steele

Daniel Ison’s soundtrack was really great! While I’m not at all well versed in Asian hip-hop the music choice hit on a major theme of the show for me – that Asian people are a part of their culture, but also individual human beings and that manifests in breaking down the boxes they are usually put in.

Elias

Yes! The Ison’s choice on the soundtrack really worked for me. It helped set the overall feeling of the play and in making transitions.

Steele

Asaki Kuruma’s costuming was appropriate and the quick changes, especially for the actors who played multiple characters, were well executed.

It did feel like the downstage left area- which you also mentioned was underlit– was also underdeveloped in comparison to the upstage, and downstage right areas sets.

Linoor

I was actually pleasantly surprised by my ability to follow the story without being confused about location, so kudos to both the designer and the performers that were able to make use of the space so well.

Elias

I do understand the constraints of the budget can limit prop choices but I wondered how anybody gets IT work accomplished with a Chromebook. I loved the tiny piano in the second act: it functioned as a great joke as well as a storytelling device.

The fight choreography (no choreographer credited) did a decent job of telling the story without getting in the way, and the actors performed it adeptly. I also particularly enjoyed the movement piece set to the sonata in the second act. I thought that was a very creative and well-executed solution to a script challenge.

 

Performances

 

Steele

Richard Chan and Stephanie Walters were strong comedic leads.

Elias

I think the direction didn’t offer enough of an arc, and as a result their portrayals came off as one-note, or without as many levels as I feel like the text demanded.

That said, it was a very good note.  Chan and Walters do a very admirable job carrying the play forward. Both their energy and commitment to their characters and the narrative arc of the play are consistently high and fast-paced, without being confusing. They play off each other so very well and offer that harmony to the audience.

Linoor

I agree with you, Elias, that Chan and Walters’ performers felt at times one-note, more at the beginning than towards the end. Maybe it was that I finally found a rhythm with the performance, or maybe because the beginning was just off to a weird start the night that I was there, but the world of the show really starts to hum for me when they go back to their parents’ house for dinner the first time.

Steele

Those who played multiple roles did a great job distinguishing their characters. Daniel Kim in particular showed great range between is more comedic and serious characters.

Elias

Daniel Kim’s comedic timing is impeccable, and he lends a lot of humor to every character he portrays. Having said that, I could have used more differentiation between his roles. Unless there was a distinct directorial or textual choice being made that I missed, I think the show would have benefited from more vocal differentiation (yes, maybe even an accent, bad Asian, Elias!) for the Weird Old Chinese Guy Tzi Chuan versus Melvin. The choices for General Tso showed more distinctiveness.

Arlen Hancock was in the difficult position as an actor of having to play one hate-able character after another and he succeeded. I really hated all his characters, and all for different reasons!

Anita Holland is a standout performer for me. Their presence onstage is unmistakable and palpable, and I think they did an incredible job of creating multiple complex, motivated characters. Playing with the parallels between the western therapist and the Chinese matchmaker was also excellent.

 

Direction

 

Steele

Staging and physicality of the characters was done well. The actors seemed to move around the stage in alignment with the text. I particularly enjoyed the use of the stage left door.

 

Elias

I’m less enthusiastic about the direction. I wasn’t sure, exactly, if this play was supposed to be stylized or not. Some strong choices came through in places where the actors would, apparently, address the audience, but those choices were inconsistent. Sometimes it felt like it was trying to be a flat-out madcap comedy, while other times it retreated from that energy and became, stylistically, more like a couch-and-talk play. That might be one of the challenges of the script itself, which sometimes stops its own action in order to try to tell the audience all the issues of society instead of showing them. I felt like I needed more commitment from the direction than I had.

Jeff Liu did do a great job of ensuring the pace kept moving forward, and that is a major challenge of some points of the script.

 

Linor

Oh wow, that’s so interesting, because the one thought I had consistently during my experience was this director really knows what they’re doing. While I agree with you about the tension between stylization and naturalism, I frequently felt that I could see the hand of the director really expertly guiding the performances through that tension to these great moments of mad-cap, yes, and also of public pleas for recognition.

The problems I had were with the playwright more than the direction: you’re right that the play gets in its own way, but I thought the direction handled those moments really expertly.

 

The Script

 

Steele

There were moments where I felt like the mini monologues coming from the main characters were too wordy. I couldn’t tell if it was an overuse of exposition or if it was a strategic way to express to the audience all the narratives that run through the sibling’s heads at any given moment as they think about balancing their culture with their individuality. Were we supposed to feel overwhelmed by their thoughts like they do? Could Lew have shown, rather than told to get those points across?

 

Elias

Mike Lew’s play is relatively new, written in 2016. It has the feel of an early work of a playwright who was driven to try to work out the numerous and overwhelming issues of being raised as a marginalized person in the United States, specifically as a child of immigrants and as a model minority. As a result, sometimes the text gets crowded with trying to get those ideas and feelings out, and it pushes aside the story being told. And I’m someone who really, really likes crowding conversations with the issues and ideas and feelings!

There are a lot of good jokes in the mix, and many of them very specifically revealing the Asian-American experience and immigrant identities, and those really worked for me. The overall pacing of the direction did help with those moments that might have otherwise really bogged down the show.

 

Linor 

I thought that Lew tricked himself into these moments of explanation when really, the best jokes and the best moments were the spots where the play was unapologetically, inexplicably itself. No explanation necessary. In that way, it did feel like early work of a really promising playwright. In the end, because it traveled to so many stylistic places (and so many geographic locations!) and because some of the conversations felt more realistic than others, I felt like we were zooming back and forth between styles that the playwright thought worked for each moment, when really, we could have stayed in the hyper-mad cap style and I think the play would have been better for it.

 

Accountability

Steele

This play both serves Asian American, allowing them to see themselves and their issues on stage, as well as others, giving us a much needed view into the Asian American experience. The play was perfectly inclusive for the context of the show. While the white characters were almost caricatures I think they were written in such an outlandish way that the audience understood they represented the wildest of white male personality traits that Asian people encounter.

 

Elias

I’ve said a lot of things that are critical of this production, but the bottom line for me is still this: it’s important that this production, led by a majority Asian-American production team, under the representation of an actively-advocating Asian-American theatre organization is happening right now in Philadelphia theatre.

I think it’s really important that this play exists right now, because I cannot remember a single time in my 10-year-history of being a part of this community that I’ve seen that many Asian faces onstage in a full production, that I heard an Asian-American story told by Asian Americans, fully embodied in a complete production. The only other time I saw anything even close to  that was on Broadway, and it took until 2016. This play was for people like me: a child of immigrants, hovering unsteadily between worlds that they can neither own nor be owned by, a tenuous place of belonging/not-belonging that lends a lifetime of core instability.

And it was important that it was funny! And it was so funny, in so many places. We survive because sometimes we can just laugh at the absurdity of the luck-of-the-draw of our birth. And this production didn’t need to be mindblowingly, exceptionally awesome to be important, because we’ve all worked at least twice as hard for four times as long to get half as much recognition, or resources, or even acknowledgment of our existences, while even more mediocre plays by white people (and even actually bad plays by white people) get more of the recognition and resources and second-, third-, umpteenth-chances to continue producing. You don’t need a shining titanium-alloy tool to break a chain; sometimes you only get a rusty hammer, and you pound away. This production, by these folks, in this city, was still groundbreaking, and that’s why it’s important it’s here.

 

Linor

What you said.

One thought on “Tiger Style- Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists

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