When the ‘Tiger Style’ of parenting is over, shining youthful achievements turn into adult vexations for a pair of Asian American siblings in a funny new Alliance Theatre play.
By Jeffrey Silvey
When you’ve done everything right and by the book, what do you do when it all starts to go wrong?
That’s the question faced by Albert and Jennifer Chen, former star-student siblings who transitioned from the success and achievements of their youth to frustration and failure as adults in the new play Tiger Style! by Michael Lew, bowing in its world premiere next week at Alliance Theatre.
“The name Tiger Style! takes inspiration from a book called ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,’ Lew tells David Atlanta. “In the book, the author describes a style of parenting that is pretty common among Asian Americans that emphasizes higher education, higher achievements, and discipline to make sure they get into the best colleges.”
Lew is familiar with the Tiger parent. His own discipline and talent landed him at Julliard. He began working on Tiger Style! in 2013 as a response to his professors’ suggestion that he write about being Chinese American. He didn’t want it to be a typical story about immigrants but instead wanted to write about his culture in a humorous, contemporary way.
Once the tiger inspiration crept in, he knew he had something.
Albert and Jennifer are third-generation Chinese Americans like Lew. Their childhoods were filled with good grades, accomplishments, achievements and distinction, but their adult lives aren’t quite living up to the glory of their youth. Albert has career trouble, and Jennifer has relationship problems. They decide to throw caution to the wind and embark on an Asian Freedom Tour that takes them from California to China. They seek out their cultural roots and together find their inner slacker and outer tiger.
Since its inception at Juliard in 2013, the play has been workshopped at different theaters across the country. Now Lew is ready for the Alliance Theatre to host the world premiere. Although he is from San Francisco, Lew says that Atlanta and the Alliance in particular feel like an artistic home. His previous play, Bike America, was produced at the Alliance in 2013 under the direction of Moritz von Stuelpnagel. Tiger Style! reunites the playwright and director.
“In creating Tiger Style!, a play so intimately tied to the notions of home and family, I’m overwhelmed that Atlanta has become such a welcoming home to my work and that the Alliance has become my artistic family,” Lew says.
Lew’s affection with Atlanta and the Alliance is completely mutual.
“What’s great about [Lew’s] writing is that his whip-smart ideas are couched in a genuinely hilarious and rambunctious adventure story,” von Stuelpnagel says.
Jon Norman Schneider and Ruibo Qian star as the brother and sister. Francis Jue, Emily Kuroda, and Bobby Labartino round out the rest of the cast.
Tiger Style! Opens Sept. 30 and runs Tuesdays to Sundays through Oct. 18 at Alliance Theatre. Call 404-733-5000 or visit alliancetheatre.org/tigerstyle.