Tiger Style

Stephanie Shum and Hyunmin Rhee star in TheatreSquared’s production of the clever comedy “Tiger Style,” which explores themes of identity, expectation and race in a humorous way.

Colorful lights dance across the stage of TheatreSquared’s West Theater and the sounds of Wu-Tang Clan fill the theater as “Tiger Style'' kicks off with exuberance. A combination of strong dialog and inspired acting maintain throughout the performance.

Mike Lew’s “Tiger Style,” currently running at T2, is an irreverent comedy following two Chinese American siblings, Albert and Jennifer Chen, as they try to find their place in a world in which they never seem to be “Chinese enough.”

Albert, played by Hyunmin Rhee, is a pushover and loses a promotion at his job. Jennifer, an aggressively organized planner played by Stephanie Shum, is dumped by her boyfriend. Fed up with the expectations others have placed on them and their failure to live up to them, the pair decide to embark on an “Asian freedom tour,” and hilarity ensues. The Chens are joined on their adventures by a cast of supporting characters played by Brian Kim McCormick, Eileen Rivera and Brandon Ruiter.

Characterized by sharp wit and colorful performances, “Tiger Style” keeps audiences hooked from the beginning. The dialogue alone is engaging, but when paired with the cast’s animated performances, viewers can not help but crack up. I found myself laughing to the point that my masked face was sore from smiling by intermission.

“Tiger Style” is a fantastic starter play for young adults who have not experienced much live theater. Its fast-paced storytelling and immersive production make it constantly interesting, and its upbeat soundtrack even features some songs Gen Zers will recognize.

With self-aware humor, the play broaches topical issues without becoming too much of a soapbox, most of the time. Preconceived notions about Chinese Americans, microaggressions, the American Dream, “tiger parents” and the spying proclivities of both the Chinese and U.S. governments are all explored at length. “Tiger Style” uses humor to weave hot button issues into the narrative, and it works to a degree.

The social commentary comes across heavy-handed at times. It can seem the characters are almost constantly rehashing conversations about how they will never experience happiness because of the lofty expectations placed upon them as Chinese Americans. However, the honesty behind the messages makes this easy to overlook.

Despite the small stage of the West Theater, T2's production of "Tiger Style" is visually captivating. Although the sets are simple, they are intriguing and accurate to the story. The actors' lively performances and increasingly colorful costumes never fail to bring the stage to life.

The play does feel a bit lengthy, and scenes toward the end are prolonged for no apparent reason. The pacing up until then is superb, and perhaps that is why the drawn-out scenes and abrupt finish seem so out of place.

Although "Tiger Style" focuses on the intricacies of being Chinese American, one does not have to be Asian American to appreciate the play’s themes. Although the play’s social commentary is integral to its value, most people can relate to having high expectations only to be thoroughly disappointed when life doesn’t work out as planned, and that, at its core, is what “Tiger Style” is all about.

“Tiger Style” runs through April 3 at TheatreSquared on Spring Street. Tickets to the live show and digital streaming passes are available online. The digital option is available starting Tuesday. As part of T2’s 30 Under 30 program, 30 tickets to each live performance are set aside at a price of $10 each for students and those under 30.

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