Theater Review: Cultures clash and results are laughs in ‘Tiger Style’ at La Jolla Playhouse


Mike Lew must have had a grand plan for his future after he graduated from La Jolla High School to start a career in the theater. He went to Julliard to earn an artist diploma in playwriting, and at Yale, he earned a B.A. with a double major in directing and writing. His work has appeared in theaters across the nation, and he’s garnered awards nationally and internationally.

Lew holds a new play commission from La Jolla Playhouse and has returned with a comedy somewhat based on his own experiences as a second-generation American of Chinese ancestry.

Jaime Castañeda directs “Tiger Style!” which playfully pokes at overbearing parents and their harsh, demanding style of parenting, identified in popular culture as common among Chinese parents.

Jackie Chung plays Jennifer Chen, a doctor who is not at all happy with her life. Her brother, Albert Chen (Raymond J. Lee) is also frustrated with his job. Everyone seems to get a pay raise but him. When the siblings get together they rant and rave that it’s their parent’s fault for tiger-parenting them because now they don’t fit in.

Laughs abound in every scene. Chung is hilarious in her tantrums, which she releases with jet plane momentum. Albert is more the pouting kind, but continues to make bad remarks to his boss and other employees. The two decide they should go back to China, and soon they are off on an Asian Freedom Tour Tiger Style! where they hope to meet up with other relatives.

Lew feeds lots of laughs to the audience throughout the play, helped along by other characters such as MaryAnn Hu, a cousin and therapist that Jennifer visits. They get along like oil and water. Hu also plays the sibling’s mother, cousin and matchmaker. Nate Miller carries out his different characters — Reggie and a customs agent — quite well. David Shih portrays their father, a military general and three other characters, equally spot on.

However, underneath some of the funny situations lies a real problem when someone is not respected for who they are and what they do. It must now be a real joy for playwright Lew to watch the positive responses from an audience from the same town where he grew up. Judging by the responses from those attending the opening night show, Lew’s conquered the Tiger.

IF YOU GO: “Tiger Style!” is on stage through Oct. 2 in the Potiker Theatre at La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, UCSD campus. (858) 550-1010.