THEATER | SteppingStone’s “Tiger Tales”: Audience 1, tigers 0

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What I know about the Hmong you could fit on the back of a matchbook and have plenty of room left over. So my eyebrows went up with enthused curiosity at the prospect of seeing a play titled Tiger Tales: Hmong Folktales. Indeed, they arched fairly high at the fact that R.A. Shiomi is one of the playwrights. I haven’t seen a show written or directed by Shiomi in ages, not since he was Rick Shiomi of Theatre Mu, a company that put teeth in the Twin Cities’ claim to honor and foster multicultural theater. Shiomi’s reputation held such credibility that film, television, and stage icon Soon Tek-Oh, brought in as the lead in Silas Jones’s Canned Goods at Penumbra, refused to leave without acting in a work-in-progress at Theatre Mu. No matter what he now calls himself, Shiomi takes Asian and Asian-American culture quite seriously. Accordingly, I was sold on Tiger Tales, scripted with Cha Yang, before I even sat down.

tiger tales: hmong folktales, a play presented through may 23 at steppingstone theatre, 55 victoria st. n., st. paul. for tickets ($11) and information, see steppingstonetheatre.org.

Go see this show. Drag a daughter, son, nephew, niece, or little cousin along. It’s not an add-hot-water-and-have-instant-knowledge-of-Hmong-culture experience. It is, however, enlightening and smartly engaging. The story’s frame concerns a Hmong family in America undergoing humorously predictable woes. Dad comes home from his 9-to-5 to find the kids, from one safeguarding her tiger doll to another hypnotized by his computer game, raising more sand than anyone knows what to do with. Why can’t Mom control these kids? Are you kidding? A one-woman day-care center who has to clean the house and cook too—she’s at wits end. As Dad and Mom frustratedly commiserate, a solution presents itself: give the young ’uns something constructive to do, like listen to Grandma spin yarns from the Old Country.

This she does. Considering the title, tigers don’t come off well. One’s too dumb to remember how many cubs she’ll have, and another’s evil. Just the same, the audience goes away having enjoyed an hour’s worth of magical storytelling, including devilish crows, mischievous monkeys, and snails on which one would do well to keep a watchful eye.

As far as the show’s appeal to youngsters, the proof’s in the pudding. I saw a noontime weekday show packed with energetic kids, not one of whom uttered so much as a peep. Now that’s entertainment.

Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.

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