My Asian Mom
Adding authenticity, humor to the Tiger Mom mystique
A-Squared Theatre Workshop presents
My Asian Mom
Review by K.D. Hopkins
Mom. Now there is a loaded word. Mom gets a holiday full of flowers and a pseudo role reversal with breakfast in bed or breakfast at Shoney’s . That’s the prevailing American custom down to the ‘Bucket of Love’ special at KFC. I mention food a lot because it is a hilarious theme in My Asian Mom.
In the press release director Joe Yau speaks of a perceived reticence of Asians to talk about their mothers. I will admit that it is very rarely seen on the stage but has been in the publishing and cinematic vernacular for quite some time. Indeed, with the prevalence of Asian culture and global market presence, it would seem that the Asian mom would have been absorbed into the American consciousness. It’s all a matter of perspective I suppose. The publishing world and the news media have been milking the term "Tiger Mom" as the overbearing and aggressive head of the family. There are no sacrifices she won’t make, no mountain she won’t climb and no end to the piano teachers she will get for her child. I find it all similar to the image of the Strong Defiant Black Woman or the Overbearing Jewish Mother or the Cold Unsentimental Wasp Mother. Thankfully we have My Asian Mom to add some welcome authenticity to all of the hubbub.
The eight vignettes in this show run the emotional gamut. Organic Meatballs is a tale of two siblings being lovingly manipulated into caring for each other by Mom. Rio Shigeta, Noelle Lynn, and Ramona Kwye display good timing, but with the exception of the actors being Asian, this is a typical American story of siblings grudgingly caring for each other. It’s sweet but no unique or mind blowing insights happen. Perhaps that may well be the whole point of this show; to remove the bamboo partition onto a culture that is still shrouded in mystery. The Western presumption and the Eastern cultivation of the image both come into play.
Eight Turkey Sandwiches is written by Mia Park, who conceived the production of this show as well. She digs deeper into the pressure to be perfect and how that may weigh more heavily on the daughters. The challenge to live up to Mom’s perfection in order to get Dad’s approval is explored. Park’s character is charged with making lunch for Dad and his seven Asian business associates. How well she makes the sandwiches is a barometer of her worthiness in the future wife and mother category. She is at first dressed in traditional Korean attire and speaks of her deceased grandmother’s who suffered, triumphed and lived to be very old. The story of the escapes from North Korea are as horrifying as the Holocaust stories. One woman pretends to be dead and then climbs from under the corpses to escape to South Korea. Park then reveals her unique self with tattoos and a vegan’s distaste for turkey. The literal headstand was a great climax!
One of the funniest vignettes is This is Why I don’t Drink, written by Neal Ryan Shaw. Alex Wu plays a Filipino son trying to bond with his Wii-playing mother portrayed hilariously by Ginger Leopoldo. Wu has a great nebbish quality for this role. This one-act fits nicely into the Woody Allen pantheon of neurotic sons and their overbearing mothers. Wu chugs a few glasses before settling in to watch the Filipino soap opera in one of the funnier takes on son and mother bonding. Leopoldo runs the backstory for Wu, taking him through the convoluted tale of babies switched at birth and being saved from the overdose in the IV drip at the last minute as the real birth mother is revealed!
Hope Kim’s Piano is a departure from the style of the rest of the vignettes; it’s more of a speech and testimonial by the writer/actress. The story of coming to America and moving to Skokie is actually not so uncommon anymore. Kim is a fine pianist and gives a very emotional if trite oration of stepping into her own identity in spite of her mother wanting her to be a concert pianist. It’s like the Jewish mother wanting her son to be a doctor without the shtick.
The other vignettes follow in a similar emotional vein as they elevate a monument to Asian motherhood. The topic gets a good-natured spoof in Tiger Mom written by Colleen Dilts and Mike Gillespie. Dilts’ character decides to raise a child according to the American bestseller “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” by Amy Chua. No sports or Boy Scouts lest her son break a piano-playing finger. It’s good natured, funny, and takes the sting out of the stereotype.
When you get down to the nitty-gritty no one goes overboard like the American Mom – no matter the ethnicity. It’s what makes Mom such a loaded word. Save me a seat at Shoney’s.
My Asian Mom continues through May 26th at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map), with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets are $13-$15, and are available by phone (773-327-5252) or online at PrintTixUSA.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at a-stw.org.
All photos by Mari Ortiz-Shoda