New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Global

"A Tale of a Tiger"
59 East 59 Theater B, Manhattan

"Tiger" certainly qualifies as ethnic theater, but the question arises as to which ethnic group. Perhaps "global" would be a most appropriate label, given its multiple connections.

For starters, "Tiger" had its origins in Chinese folklore, which borrowed from an Indian myth. More recently, it was picked up by the Italian Nobel laureate poet/playwright Dario Fo, who made it his own. And now the Israeli-American performance artist Ami Dayan has freely adapted the work, first performing it in Israel in 1994 and currently offering it to off-Broadway theatergoers.

"Freely," unfortunately, is the operant word. Dayan has taken a tale layered with psychological meanings that go back in time and trivialized it. Perhaps with the idea of making it understandable to young audiences, Dayan presents it in childlike and amateurish terms. Dressed as a Chinese peasant, he wanders down the aisle, barefoot and back-packed, Asian music in the background. He quickly establishes rapport over the footlights, forcing the viewers to take part.

In himself, he is not a mesmerizing performer. He directs himself in this piece, which is his first mistake. There is no one to tell him that enough is enough, to rein him in, cut off his flow of verbiage. Fearing that points will be missed, he babbles on and on for 90 non-stop minutes. His style is simplistic, naïve, and unfortunately loaded with current slang and trite phrases.

What is the story? A wounded Chinese soldier is fleeing the forces of Gen. Chang Kai-Chek. Left for dead by his colleagues, he staggers into a cave. It turns out to be the home of a tigress and her cub. Rather than demolish him, the tigress nurses him back to health with her milk and her saliva. He is one more tiger cub, in her view. These three go on to become healers--initially rejected by villagers and then worshipped by them. But the soldier grows arrogant with such treatment, and must learn many lessons before he emerges as a person of true worth. The themes, of course, are the value of humility, the acceptance of outsiders, and ultimately world peace.

Yet, in spite of moments which makes the viewer cringe, the story itself survives-a tale that reaches back into our collective pasts and makes a powerful impact. If this one-man show has been successful around the world, as Dayan's promotional material suggests, it is only because the original tale somehow surmounts his interpretation.

-- Irene Backalenick
Dec. 19, 2004

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