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PerformanceStage Review'My Parents Came to America' mines first-generation frustrations for...

‘My Parents Came to America’ mines first-generation frustrations for welcome laughs

Killing My Lobster's new show on navigating the people who know how to pronounce 'Schwarzenegger'—but not their friend's name.

In the old BBC tv show “The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries,” the title character (played by the late, great Diana Rigg) famously quipped, “Children disappoint their parents, it’s one of the immutable laws of nature.” That’s what she thinks of her son who is growing up to become a lawyer, proving that there’s just no pleasing some people. Yet the children of immigrants carry their own unique burdens. Some are the same of most-all children—like hard-working parents who hoped future generations would have it easier, but who also consider anything less than back-breaking labor to be laziness. But immigrant kids have the added obstacle of trying to simultaneously embody the cultures of both their parents and the new land they call home.

Killing My Lobster’s new show, My Parents Came to America and All They Got was a Kid Who Does Comedy (through Sat/27 at PianoFight SF, September 1-10 at PianoFight Oakland), wastes no time in exploring this hypocrisy. Bay Area funnyman Tirumari Jothi is seen on a plane to the US during the sexy (and sexist) 1970s. The flight attendant with a hilarious name (Lisa Hu) can’t help but ask him about the optimism in his eyes, something US citizens often lacked during the Watergate decade. He shares with her his long list of hopes for opportunities in The States, including the ones he holds for his future children. When she notices that he wrote that he hopes his child becomes a comedian, he’s quick to clarify that was a typo.

Thus begins a show that its playwrights, according to KML artistic director Nicole Odell’s curtain speech, “began writing over a year ago.” It slightly breaks from KML’s usual format—musical number, 20-odd sketches, musical number—with the aforementioned plane sketch, which is not preceded by an introductory song. With writing led by KML’s Dominique Gélin and direction by KML regular Marc Abrigo (whose script The Path was recently produced in SF), the show’s 25 sketches—one per musical number—lean heavy into the experience of personifying clashing cultures in the US. Quite a few scenarios are covered amongst a smaller-than-usual cast of four (Jothi, Lisa Hu, Ashley Jaye, and Noe Flores).

High points include an early sketch about being a BIPOC kid (Jaye) visiting the home of a white friend (Flores) and being shocked by how … let’s say, “casual” the latter is in how they address their parents. Another has someone non-white celebrating their birthday, only for their friends to have never learned to pronounce or spell her name, despite their ability to nail Irish names with ease (something we ‘80s BIPOC kids learned growing up with Arnold Schwarzenegger.) One of the funniest sketches involves the use of a “white noise” machine that just reads from Jane Austen.

Less successful is a running gag about how there have been more astronauts in film than Asian Americans—the initial joke gets a chuckle, but it ultimately goes nowhere. A piece about BIPOC trying to figure out the ethnicities of celebs (including the realization that Ariana Grande is not Latina) is nice, but goes on a few notes longer than it should. The same thing holds true for the closing sketch about late-night texting and doom-scrolling.

Still, the cast thoroughly commit to their roles, bringing shades of honesty to pieces about foreign-born parents determined to maintain an air of stoicism in front of their kids. A “People’s Court” parody in which two women fight over a restaurant check in an attempt to “out-nice” one another, has a similar verisimilitude borne of ingrained niceties turned aggressive. And a sketch called “The Cousin Experience” hilariously skirts a certain taboo so much that it had to end with a disclaimer, with Jothi and Jaye throwing themselves into it wholeheartedly.

Off the stage, PianoFight still requires proof-of-vaccine to enter, but masks appear to be option (though Odell implored for their use in her speech.) CO² readings on my Aranet4 started the hour at about 797ppm, eventually peaking at 1969ppm by the final bow. Incidentally, opening night fell on PianoFight member Edwin Jacobs’ birthday, meaning all of us KML patrons walked out into a drag show just as they were serenading him. You may not experience the same, but it made for a notable capper to the evening.

One is hard-pressed to find any sane person these days who would say that the US is the best country in the world, especially given recent SCOTUS rulings and the still-ongoing pandemic. Having said that, the eponymous parents of this show’s creators needn’t have worried about their kids’ chosen path. With our country having become the laughing stock of a world-gone-mad, being given permission to laugh by the children of immigrants is a welcome reprieve, even if just for an hour.

MY PARENTS CAME TO AMERICA AND ALL THEY GOT WAS A KID WHO DOES COMEDY runs through August 27 at PianoFight SF, before moving to PianoFight Oakland September 1– 10. Tickets and more info here.

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Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III is a San Francisco-born journalist, theatre artist, and arts critic. You can find dodgy evidence of this at thethinkingmansidiot.wordpress.com

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