Zombie Asian Moms
Created by Kate Siahaan-Rigg and Lyris Hung
Songs by Slanty Eyed Mama
Presented at The Downstairs at La MaMa, NYC
November 29-December 9, 2018
While the audience waits for Zombie Asian Moms, the new show by Kate Siahaan-Rigg and Lyris Hung, to begin, a slideshow cycles of memes and social media posts commenting humorously on life as the child of Asian parents. The title of the show derives from the conceit that the powerful voices of these mothers survive them, and Siahaan-Rigg and Hung, who also perform as musical duo Slanty Eyed Mama, delve into not only the manifestations of pressures typical of Asian, particularly immigrant, mothers around things such as clothing and appearance, food, and achievement but also larger issues of representation and internalized and external racism. Biting, heartfelt, and hilarious, Zombie Asian Moms offers a marvelously enjoyable evening of experimental theater.
The show proper opens with violinist Hung, who handles the music while Siahaan-Rigg handles the singing and speaking parts, playing over a montage of clips and photos, both professional and non-professional, that is eventually interrupted by Siahaan-Rigg as her own mother, sporting rhinestone-encrusted sunglasses and freely dispensing criticism. This entrance kicks off a heady melange of storytelling, poetry, song, comedy, and clips of interviews with other Asian moms, drawn from a larger, in-progress documentary project. Early on, Siahaan-Rigg, as herself, comments that maybe audience members will make some connections among these elements, and maybe they won't, but the hope either way is to "move the needle" on xenophobia and internalized racism while having some fun doing it; and this fantastic performance less meets those goals than blows past them with aplomb. Hung uses looping and effects, strumming her instrument under lightly crunchy distortion, for example, or laying down a pitch-shifted bass line, to create the soundscapes for catchy, clever, satiric songs that touch on topics including ethnic erasure, Asian mom fashion, and, in the most caustic number, the internalized desire to be White. Siahaan-Rigg's anecdotes about her mother include her fondness for (White) princesses, her ever-present hope that her daughter will finally choose to attend medical school, and her and her father's humiliating decision to have her perform as a sort of culturally-themed international busker, while interludes in which she plays a mother laying out the rules of a sleepover and one whom her family sees as its "general" unfold like short solo plays in themselves, deftly sketching personalities and relationships. Taken as a whole, Zombie Asian Moms is consistently funny and increasingly moving, including a couple of moments that really shouldn't be given away, culminating in individual tributes to the performers' mothers.
Zombie Asian Moms makes clear an appreciation of its eponymous parents without discounting the hurt that they sometimes cause(d) their children or the (inter)cultural factors that impacted these dynamics. The result is simultaneously thought-provoking, poignant, and wildly entertaining. These are zombies that you should absolutely let inside your head. - Leah Richards & John Ziegler