Arts & Entertainment: TLT examines the immigrant experience in ‘The Joy Luck Club’

Tacoma Little Theatre delves into a common American experience in its production of “The Joy Luck Club.” This is based on the book by Amy Tan and adapted by David Hsieh.

That experience is the one of immigrants, as those who were born in the old country struggle to pass on their culture and customs to the younger family members who were born and raised in the United States.

The story begins in San Francisco in 1984. Through a series of flashbacks, four young women of Chinese descent who were born in American explore their past, along with their mothers, who were born in feudal China.

The lighting in this play is not elaborate but it plays an important role. As each character speaks, a spotlight shines on her face. Niclas R. Olson, resident lighting designer at TLT, was wise to keep the lighting simple and effective.

One way the older women try to connect with their Americanized daughters and nieces is through games of mahjong. The most humorous scene is when a young woman compares it to a similar game played by Jews. This draws a stern, but amusing, rebuke and an explanation of the difference between the Chinese and Jewish version.

The most powerful scenes are flashbacks to China during the 1930s. The Japanese have invaded China and are conquering the country city after city. As the story is told, we see Chinese people fleeing, shown by people walking in silhouette behind a screen at the back of the stage. This technique is used later to shown the brothers and sisters of one of the young American characters.

The costumes, designed by Michele Graves, are a strong feature of the play. The traditional Chinese attire is quite elegant. The contrast between these and the American-style fashions worn by some of the younger characters does much to define the cultural and generational gaps being examined.

This story is told from the female perspective, with mothers and daughters exploring their relationships. But it is one that any American, regardless of gender or ethnic background, can find some common ground with.

Due to adult language and situation, the play is not recommended for patrons under the age of 13.

“The Joy Luck Club” will run through April 7. Performances are 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. There will be a pay-what-you-can performance on March 22. For more information, call (253) 272-2281 or visit


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