In Mike Lew’s “Tiger Style!,” the Huntington Theatre Company’s newest production, two siblings, Albert and Jennifer Chen, come to terms with being adult losers.
Well, “losers” according to certain social guidelines — Jennifer’s just been dumped; Albert was passed up for a promotion. Naturally, the Ivy-educated 30-somethings decide to first blame their misfortunes on their parents, who quickly remind them of their rich and fulfilling upbringing and academic opportunities, before getting introspective with the solution to all of life’s existential issues: a road trip. They embark on a journey to China (deemed the Asian Freedom Tour!) from their California homes, rediscovering their culture, spirit and not-so-shortcomings along the way.
We chat with Emily Kuroda, who plays “mom” among other characters in this five-person cast, about the role of Asian culture in theater, her upcoming “Gilmore Girls” reunion and whether feeling like a “loser” is just a millennial problem.
With a small cast, you’re filling in a few roles throughout the show. What’s that like for you — to switch from character to character?
I play mom, a therapist, a matchmaker, a cousin, a street vendor in China — backstage [for me] is very busy. I think Mike Lew is such a good writer though because I don’t have to do anything but say his words. The characters live in his writing.
Of course with the name of the show, “tiger parenting” and “tiger moms” come to mind. Do these characterizations carry over to the parents in the show at all?
I know a lot of people read that book [Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”] and it offended a lot of people, but I haven’t read it yet. Note to self: read book. But yeah, the “tiger mom” wants the best for her children but the kids are on their own after college. After the parents have given them the education and tools they need for the outside world, they expect the kids to function on their own. They let go after a certain point — that certain point is Harvard, of course.
Do you think feeling like a “loser” in the eye of Jennifer and Albert is more of a millennial problem than ones you faced when you were that age?
I do — I’m of the older generation and in my world, we had to struggle a lot more. If we wanted to go to college, we likely had to pay for it ourselves. These are children who grew up comfortably and went to Ivy League schools and became professionals. They never had to take a job for survival and when they’re whining, I can’t relate to that. But that’s the play, they realize, “Why are we whining? What’s wrong with us?”
Do you think there are cultural factors in the show that are exclusive to Asian American and Asian families?
I think it’s beyond racial barriers — the parent-child relationship [in the show] is a relationship all people can relate to. It’s the relationship a lot of parents are having with their children right now. Asian parents might be stricter with their kids and put them in the best schools with the best tutors and all these lessons, but that’s not an Asian thing, that’s an American thing.
Are roles for Asian actors in theater improving?
We have a new crop of writers that are very exciting, and Mike Lew is definitely one of them. He’s so prolific and writing plays and roles that aren’t just Asian Americans in Asian-American plays. However, we still don’t seem to be considered for lead roles in non-Asian plays. Maybe it’s starting to change, but why does it always have to be an Asian-American play? Why can’t we do roles that are mainstream? It’s not happening often, and that’s so frustrating.
OK, so we have to talk to you about “Gilmore Girls.” Your character Mrs. Kim [Lane’s mom] will be part of the upcoming Netflix reunion. Is there anything you can tell us about the show?
I had such a great time and I’m excited to be back. When we had the first table read and I saw that pretty much everyone was there, it warmed my heart after all these years. It’s so witty and quick and fun. [The late] Edward Herrmann was sorely missed, but I think the show serves him well.
If you go:
Oct. 14 to Nov. 13
Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA
527 Tremont St., Boston