What’s it about?
Musical duo Slanty Eyed Mama sings a social commentary on issues of the Asian-American immigrant experience.
What’d I experience?
It started to rain the second I got to the venue, but after some confusion about whether they were letting people in yet, I made my way downstairs. Surprise – this wasn’t your usual theatre setup. I felt as if I was in an intimate gathering with friends. Intimacy became fused with a certain kind of hustle and bustle as the waitress encouraged everyone to buy a drink, no, buy lots of drinks. I politely kept to my water.
The lights dimmed and the performers emerged but quickly I saw a Spotify playlist and an error message pop up on the projector screen. Everyone laughed it off though. The vibe was one of a comedy club with everyone there to have a good laugh. Less razzle-dazzle than Broadway. The crowd was just happy to be there and it showed. I was happy to be there and to be out of the summer heat.
I made a determined effort to avoid note taking and instead soaked in the performance, the atmosphere of the venue, and all the little quirks that came along with it. I barely even looked at the playbill – all I remember seeing was that the duo performing was known as Slanty Eyed Mama, and that they were both Julliard graduates.
I found myself lost in a quest both to understand the perspective of the speaker and understand the references that she used. Part of me was a bit anxious coming into the performance – I am not Asian-American, so will I be able to connect to the different stories? The immigrants in my family came to Ellis Island at the turn of the 20th century.
What I found most intoxicating about theatre when I was first introduced to it, was how I was so easily able to connect to the characters and themes. For this, the connections were less clear-cut, but that added a new dimension to the experience, a welcome one. I spent the vast majority of the 80-minute performance bellowing with laughter. The mix of stand up comedy, small skits, spoken word-style poetry and musical numbers thrilled me. I found myself constantly surprised by the variety the duo unleashed. At some point in the early beginnings of the show, they started singing about the “bowl-cut blues”, and I remembered my lovely bowl shaped haircut at five years old. Not a great look. The montage of young Asian children rocking even more severe bowl cuts reaffirmed my thoughts: what on God’s green earth possessed our mothers to do our hair like that?
Suddenly, we were transported from a bluesy lament of dime-store haircuts to the bedroom of a forty-year old woman trying out for cheer camp. Apparently, cheer camp is a thing. My high school did not have cheerleaders. We also did not have any fields, or a gymnasium, so I’m at a bit of a loss here. Nevertheless, I kept on laughing. This duo was somehow the perfect rendition of a forty-year old Asian lady who wanted to be a high school cheerleader. Her fake cheerleader accent was also absolutely fantastic. It sounds exactly like what I think a cheerleader from Middle America would sound like.
Once we got into “White Girl Problems” it was game over, though. Every example she gave was so true and she just rattled them off the top of her head like items on a grocery list. Is this gluten-free? Is there racism/sexism? It was painfully and hilariously accurate. Some of them are real issues, though! While I was watching it I thought simultaneously how it was hilarious but also how it was real and something that should be taken seriously (shout out to my friend who’s a celiac, and shout out to me with my food allergies).
I want to take a second to not talk about the show and say that the audience interaction was honestly one of my favorite parts of this whole experience. A waiter went up near the stage, I think to tell them about a technical issue, and the banter back and forth had me cracking up. The waiter looked slightly mortified and embarrassed, though. Maybe I should have kept it to a chuckle.
Ah, yes - the last bit was an exploration of Hello Kitty. I also learned that Hello Kitty is not actually supposed to be a cat at all. She’s a girl who lives in London! I felt like I was learning more here than I learned in school. This finale definitely brought it – the political and cultural commentary was sharp. yet, every ten seconds I found myself letting out another laugh at another joke, or maybe it was a bit of witty wordplay. One thing’s for sure, I left that place with sore cheeks. Too many smiles.
The show ended and, man, was I tired. I think a long Sunday coupled with an hour and twenty minutes of laughter will do that to you. My girlfriend and I hung around the venue for a few minutes just to soak everything in, and when we left, I started peppering her with questions about what she thought different parts of the play meant, and we shared even more laughs over cross-cultural confusions. If I had to use two words to describe this show to anyone, I would say it was a mixture between comedy and commentary.
- Benjamin C.