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Theater Thu May 24 2012
Anytime there is a production mounted with people and subject matters not regularly seen on stage or screen, it gets the carp running and audiences flowing (see: Tyler Perry, both stage and movie incarnations). Except, the audience looks "different" than the regular attendees, and is "coming out" to see themselves reflected in spaces normally not reserved for their stories.
During the '88 Miss Saigon on Broadway debacle, producer Cameron Macintosh defended his "reverse color blind," stating the two reasons why white performers were the predominant hiring preference over performers of color (particularly Asians): 1) their weren't many "qualified," and 2) most theatrical productions are about families, and of course families are made up of one race, and the overwhelming majority of playwrights, August Wilson the exception, are white (and male). The answer to the conundrum as defined by Macintosh, people of color must write, produce and present their own work, and market to their own communities.
My Asian Mom takes a page from the (very successful) Tyler Perry notebook. Eight vignettes take on the mythology and private and public stereotypes of Asian parenting style, most especially that behemoth, The Asian Mother.
There are a couple of entries that don't quite go the distance. The first-up, Organic Meatballs (Writer: Damon Chua) has a brother and sister commiserating over a new-age meal, openly reveling in their all-modern Americanism, yet reaching the conclusion that even though thousands of miles away, their mother still successfully manipulates their lives. Unfortunately, there's no distinction of how their Asian mom is any different from my black mom, or anyone else's mom. If this skit were set in the '70s, Asian mom would have been Jewish mom.
The stronger vignettes veer toward the poignant: Piano (written and performed by Hope Kim) tells the familiar tale of coming of age defiance evolving to sincere regret for not living up to a mother's sacrifice for her daughter. In Autumn Moon a daughter waits with baited anticipation for the father's return from a business trip so the family can begin holiday celebrations, only the celebration becomes a funeral mass. Seeing her departed mother as the superheroine MamaSiHero (written by Conrad A. Panganiban), a grieving writer (Aimee Algas Alker) breaks her writer's block and gives her mother the gift of comic book afterlife. Ironically, Tiger Mom is the standout of the evening -- the story of a Caucasian mother (Colleen Dilts) fiercely determined to emotionally damage her son (Patrick Woods) by withholding any trace of maternal love and affection while bullying him to succeed academically "Asian-style." If he gets into Harvard, graduates top of his class, lands on Wall Street, and despises her very being, then white Tiger Mom has done her job!
From the strongest to not-so-strong entries, Asian Mom is a lovely evening of theater.
My Asian Mom plays Fridays and Saturdays, June 1 through July 7 at 8pm. Performances take place at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., 2nd floor. $15 General Admission, $13 for groups of 10 or more. Purchase tickets here.