Comic culture clash at Cinnabar
Mike Lew’s Tiger Style! is a 2016 play about family, identity, self-acceptance and the best way to fry a computer. It’s a tight, intelligent and consistently funny work. Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater has a production running through April 23
Siblings Jennifer (Carissa Ratanaphanyarat) and Albert Chen (Byron Guo) are two overachieving adults who decide that it is time to break free from the model minority expectations set by their parents and go on a “Western Freedom Tour.” Along the way, they encounter slacker boyfriends, exasperated therapists, disinterested matchmakers, and have an occasional brush with the Chinese Ministry of State Security.
While well-written, the script follows a fairly predictable plotline. The talented Guo, however, never lets the play succumb to the tropes it uses to drive the plot. Guo’s Albert is a grounded character whose skillful handling of the high-brow language, coupled with precise physical comedy, makes even outrageous plot points seem reasonable. His performance is just one of the elements that make this production shine.
Jeffrey Cook’s set is a minimalist piece of art. His paper walls and blonde woods that Americans tend to associate with Eastern architecture, coupled with the ability of every panel to move, is a functional and beautiful piece of stagecraft. That it also subtly reminds us that these people live in homes built with “paper sons” is a masterful example of design telling a story.
While Guo is far and away the star of this show, the other four members of the cast all have their moments. Ratanaphanyarat’s Jenny can skew toward whiny, but when she finally hits her stride, the sibling relationship becomes familiar and relatable. Regielyn Padua’s strong stage presence comes into play no matter which of the increasingly zany characters they portray, but Cousin Chen was particularly well-served by it. Thomas Nguyen’s portrayal of the father needed more gravitas, but his Tzi Chuan was a standout character.
Rounding out the cast is Kyle Goldman, whose characters are similar to the point that one wonders if Lew is not so subtly saying, “All white guys look the same.” That’s especially funny, since the director (M. Graham Smith) is white.
Smith has directed a strong show. This brings one to a long, complicated conversation about who tells stories and whether it’s better the story be told by someone else than just not told at all. As Jenny and Albert discover, in life, there are no easy answers.
‘Tiger Style!’ runs through April 23 at Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. Fri–Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm. $30–$40. Masking is encouraged. 707.763.8920. cinnabartheater.org.