Beautifully acted. An exquisite production. So grateful we had the experience of being in the audience.
That was one of many tweets and Facebook posts to appear the morning after the opening of The Joy Luck Club at Tacoma Little Theatre.
This production is more than just a play; it is an historic event for Tacoma. It was adapted from the Amy Tan book by David Hsieh, founding artistic director for ReAct Theatre in Seattle, where it was first performed. This production, like the original, is directed by Hsieh and features at least two of the original actors. It is only the second time it has been performed anywhere.
It is a beautiful production of a complex and fascinating story. But audiences should be aware that it is not an easy play to watch. It is long (I clocked it at two hours and 40 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission) and with the Chinese accents, unfamiliar names, large cast and layered story lines, it takes concentration to keep up. It is an exhausting play, both emotionally and intellectually, but well worth the effort.
Jing-mei (Narea Kang) goes by the Americanized name June. Like the other women of her generation Waverly (Ruth Yeo), Rose (Amanda Oliva) and Lena (Grace Xie) Jing-mei disdains her Chinese heritage and wants to be fully American. When her mother dies, she is invited to take her place in the weekly Mahjong game that has become an almost sacred tradition with the mothers. The Mahjong players and their daughters tell tales about their lives. At first the stories they tell seem isolated and random, but as the play progresses, they begin to coalesce into a single thread.
Most of the stories are told in the first person by characters speaking directly to the audience while other actors playing them (often at different ages) act out the stories, sometimes in mime and sometimes in beautifully stylized silhouette behind a scrim.
The stories they tell center on family dynamics, most particularly the complex love-hate relationships between these mothers and daughters; of cultural clashes; of love, loss and death; of murder and suicide. And with all of this, it is filled with laugh-out-loud humor.
As the many story threads begin to come together, the daughters who have been ashamed of their mothers old-fashioned ways begin to respect and love them in ways they never would have expected.
The set by Burton K. Yuen consists of 8-foot-tall Mahjong tiles, three risers and a table and chairs. It is elegant and, fortunately, requires no changes other than small props. The beauty of this set is dramatically augmented by Niclas R. Olsons exquisite lighting.
There are 16 cast members, and each one plays multiple roles. The acting is excellent. Leilani Berinobis as Lindo, Waverlys mother, is fabulous. She has many of the funniest lines in the show and delivers them with impeccable timing and attitude. Yeos Waverly is a wonderfully admirable and engaging character convincingly portrayed.
Dan Theyer as Harold, Rich, Ted and others all of the Asian womens Western boyfriends and spouses is fun to watch. Hes especially entertaining as Rich, Waverlys fiancé, who blissfully does everything wrong just when she needs him to make a good impression on her family.
Aya Hashiguchi is outstanding as Ying Ying and others she portrays. She performs one gut-wrenching scene and has some great, subtle, tell-all gestures.
The Joy Luck Club is presented as poetry in motion. It is intelligent and heartfelt.
Check Alecs blog at alecclayton.blogspot.com/ later this month for reviews of other area theatrical performances. Coming up will be a review of Olympia Family Theaters The Somewhat True Tale of Robin Hood.