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Amazing Wild Rice


Major kudos is deserved to Wild Rice, the one man show starring Scarlett Lam, presented during the Double Helix Theatre Company's Fifth Annual ONE Festival. 




In Wild Rice, Scarlett Lam plays herself and all other major characters in her life as she grows up in an American society with Chinese parents and family who all clutch to their heritage while desperately trying to not allow any American culture to seep in.  The play is al la All American Girl from the mid '90s starring Margaret Cho, another Asian comedic actress, and for me is the true indication of the intelligence of the show. 




I remember watching All American Girl and being amazed by the canned laughter that followed every Asian stereotype and slam.  In its most shallow form, yes All American Girl was funny.  However, I still felt that Margaret Cho sacrificed her family and heritage at the expense of a good laugh.  In my memory of the short lived television series, there was never a respectable acceptance of the generational differences when it came to American and Asian cultures.  The show seemed to pit the audience against Cho's family in All American Girl, never giving the family a fair share of voice on why they lived and felt the way they did and about the importance of not forgetting their rich culture which serves as the backbone to who they are.




Surprisingly and refreshingly, Wild Rice did not simulate All American Girl, a path which it could have easily gone down, but rather provided its own unique show that manages to give everyone what they ultimately want – comedy and a happy ending.




Lam, who carries the credit of writer in addition to actress in this one man show, offers humor in all the right places as she rebels against her family, primarily her mother, as the two embark on a cross country trip.  While Lam attempts to ignore her mother who is too eager to pronounce everyone as "crazy" or "so stupid," Lam flashes back to moments in her childhood where her Chinese lineage in an American society collide.   




And this is where the amazing genius of Lam is truly seen.  She quietly takes you into a world that, if you're like me - you have no idea about, and suddenly you are in hysterics over what Lam is saying and doing.  The beauty of Wild Rice is that you don't have to be Chinese to get it.  Lam pokes fun at her family, much in the same way that Cho did on All American Girl, but despite the differing views from parent to child, there is a common theme of respect woven throughout the entire play.  This one crucial element, in my opinion, had always been what Cho's performances missed.    In some "double edged sword" way, the respect factor is the crux of the generational differences like these; it's a classic situation.  The child wants to break out of the traditional culture they grew up in to experience what American life has to offer.  Yet somehow the child must do this respectfully as to not insult the parent and the traditions that make up who the child is.  Likewise, the parent wants to respect their child's individuality and the chance to experience new things while at the same time wanting to guarantee that the family's cultural traditions will not vanish in the process.  Although it is often seen as a subtle reason behind the more overt humor, it is the balancing act of respect that ultimately brings about the laughter in stories such as these.




And Lam does not disappoint when it comes to humorous situations and does a terrific job at poking fun of her culture's stereotypes and traditions. 




In one of Lam's tangent, she lets the audience into the fantasy world of 1-800-ORIENTL, where girls are available for any Asian fetish a caller may have.  At 1-800-ORIENTL, where they "leave off the 'A' for 'absorootly' Asian," callers can choose from two options.  Option One is the "China Doll" who will laugh at everything you say and make men feel "more important than they really are."  Option Two is for the "Martial Arts Expert" who can dabble in a little S&M and make you answer to the question of "Who's your sensei?"   The situation is ridiculous and result is the theater literally howling.  I have never laughed so hard at poking fun of stereotypes before. 




Lam also takes the audience into a flashback of when her grandmother passed away.  Rather than mourn at the death of their grandmother, Lam and other younger cousins are given strict details on what do when they approach the coffin by an over zealous family member.  "Hands to your heart, drop your head and bow three times at the waist" are orders that are given to the children as they attempt to keep with the strict funeral tradition.   The children do not talk about how they feel since their minds are forced to remember the proper movements to make while at the casket.  They sit stunned as they witness other family members wail at the coffin and as an Asian version of Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" plays to help ease the loss.  Meanwhile, the audience again sits not even trying to stifle their laughter.




Lam does a fantastic job with Wild Rice and makes the production a standout at the ONE Festival.  It's a shame this play can not grace the stage for a longer run.  As a writer, Lam draws from the key points in her life that are worth noticing from growing up Chinese in a non-Chinese environment.  As an actress, she steps on taboos and mocks stereotypes yet balances these actions by understanding her mother's perspectives.  Although she may not agree with all of her mother's points of view, they are important to Lam simply because they are her mother's.  Their cross country trip takes them further than east to west, but instead to a bridge were they are finally happy to meet each other halfway.

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