Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists (PAPA) continues to establish itself as a force in the city’s arts scene with Mike Lew’s Tiger Style!, the collective’s first full production. The show is coming to the Louis Bluver Theater at the Drake, running January 26 through February 4.
Lew’s comedy follows siblings Albert and Jennifer Chen, who dominated every teenage achievement, including Harvard, with a combination of hard work and hard-driving parents. But now, as adults, they meet huge failure in love and at work. Together they decide to try something new, and embark on an “epic Asian Freedom Tour” of China.
“Tiger parenting,” the “model minority,” and “the identity struggles of bi/multicultural people” are all topics director Jeff Liu was excited to tackle. He said the differences between East and West are truly more than cosmetic: “They are in fact wildly different operating systems, which makes them harder to reconcile, but also more likely to provide genuine insights into each other.” This reflects the deeper issues the characters grapple with. Beyond the siblings’ story, the play asks, “How radical would it be for us to see China not as an exotic adversary, but as potentially the most vital collaborator in building a peaceful future?”
In a 2016 interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune about Tiger Style!’s San Diego premiere, Lew said he drew on his own upbringing for the story, and the title does refer to the “furor” of the Amy Chua's polarizing 2011 memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
A lot of mentors urged Lew to write about his own family, and he struggled to figure out what that meant, because as a "third-generation Chinese” kid, he didn’t know the immigrant experience firsthand. But he could write about “tiger parenting.”
“This play is meant to be a kind of an Asian-American perspective on tiger parenting from someone who’s actually been there,” he said, adding that the most hyperbolic versions of the arguments about it (often from people who aren’t Asian American) say it’s awful for the kids, they’ll hate their parents, and everyone will die by suicide. “And yet, here I am!”
Tiger Style! has already seen success coast to coast. It premiered in Atlanta in 2015 and went on to successful runs at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego (Lew’s hometown) and Huntington Theatre in Boston the following year. A Julliard and Yale alum, Lew is an award-winning writer whom Philly audiences might remember from InterAct’s 2012 production of Microcrisis (featuring PAPA founding member Bi Jean Ngo). The play’s Philly debut will star Stephanie N. Walters, Richard Chan, Anita Holland, Daniel Kim, and Arlen Hancock.
Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists presents Tiger Style! at the Louis Bluver Theater at the Drake (302 S. Hicks Street) from January 26 through February 4. Tickets ($15-$25) are available online, by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or at the door one hour prior to each performance.