Carry the Tiger to the Mountain
nytheatre.com review by Mark DeFrancis
June 15, 2007
Carry the Tiger to the Mountain is a play that tries to bite off more that it can chew. It enacts the tragic true story of Vincent Chin, a young Asian American who is beaten to death by two drunken Chrysler employees with racist motives during the early 1980s. The play tries to couch this story within the greater Asian American experience, the American gasoline crisis, and even tosses in a little Tai Chi. Sadly, by trying to tackle so much, this play stretches a little thin and loses sight of its core emotional issues.
The story details the death of Vincent Chin, but is mostly concerned with the plight of his mother Lily Chin and her trampled version of the American dream. Brought to America for an arranged marriage, she learns that both her husband and America are not the wonders she was led to believe. Obsessed with the idea of grandchildren, the loss of her son Vincent is a crushing blow which leads her toward activism, and ultimately, her return to China. Wai Ching Ho does all she can to render an evocative character and succeeds on every level despite the constant efforts of the script to make her into a crazy person. She has an unflinching focus and gives her whole being to the character and the world she inhabits.
Sadly, the world she inhabits is that of a depressing after school special. Jackson Loo, who portrays Vincent Chin, seems convinced he is in a musical and manages to muster only a flat, single-point-of-view character. But you can't really blame him. The play is chalk full of corny lines and overt messages which make the arguments so obvious that they lose their power. The result is that while the audience knows Vincent Chin was wrongfully murdered and that his assailants got away free, that same audience does not care that the characters on stage are victims. Credit does have to be given to John Daggett, whose creepy car salesman brings the play to life several times; and William Ryall, who manages to make his murderous drunkard into a believable and complex villain.
Despite its flaws, Carry the Tiger to the Mountain is a story that should be told and a story that should be heard. It reminds us of the horrors that modern man is still capable of; the dangerous complexity of the legal system; and how one man's life can become meaningless in the face of greater economic issues while being an inspiration to so many at the same time.