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A Jewish 'Luck Club'?

November 29, 2007 By:
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There may not be much joy in Mudville these days, as the Yankees, the mighty Yankees, have struck out.

But there's plenty of joy at "The Joy Luck Club" of the Pan Asian Rep, in Yankeeland, where they've struck gold in muddied family relationships.

In adapting Amy Tan's 1989 best seller into a box-office draw -- the play has been extended to Dec. 1 -- the Pan Asian Repertory has lived up to its rep.

This off-Broadway Asian family-set drama is a pandemic play that hits home not just for Asians, but Jews, too. Says who?

Says Ron Bass, who fished a Jewish tale out of it when adapting it for the screen 14 years ago: "My family, my sisters, they were everywhere" in the script.

And so says founder/producing artistic director Tisa Chang of the Pan Asian Rep as well as director of the drama on stage now: "You see it in the work ethic, which is so similar to that of a Jewish family -- the adherence to excellence and the need to excel."

Excellent points made by Chang, whose box office has gone ca-ching with receipts and reception for the first of Pan Asian Rep's plays this season.

"It is one of the masterpieces of our masterpiece season," she enthuses without need of blush brushing her cheeks.

Spoken like a truest mom. And it is not just because of the moms gathered around the mah-jongg table, playing and playfully wishing the best for their children onstage. The yin-yang that yokes the Asian soul does a number on the Yiddish one as well.

The Jewish "Luck Club"? Mazel for the minyans?

Conflicts between mothers and daughters luck into the theme of this family feud, in which mismatched dreams and dramas play out against traditions and trade-offs. Fiddler's fortune cookie: A daughter may speak a different language from her parents, but that has nothing to do with linguistics.

Here, the lingua franca is frank disagreement.

"There is a whole generation of Chinese who feel estranged from their homeland these days," reasons Chang.

Somewhere, the Fiddler is scratching out a Taoist tune.

Tan lines: The book's author herself talked about it as much. In a discussion with Tan when the film version appeared, she told me that daughters are all bound by the same apron strings, some are embroidered in Chinese lettering, others emboldened in Hebrew: All embraced by culture clashes East to West, uncivil wars of serving the past and the present.

Chang chimes in now with similar observations on the "work ethic" that works for ethnics. "The Chinese are very industrious; they want to do better in their new country. The same goes for Jewish families with roots that go back to Europe. Each has similar values."

And hungers. "The Chinese love to meet and discuss around a dinner table," says Chang.

Pass the kreplach/wonton? Share the Chow Minsk?

There's enough to go around in "The Joy Luck Club," where mah-jongg and mazel enjoin the club as a focal point for Chinese kvetching and kibitzing.

Who Rules?

Not that there aren't any differences: "On, no," says Chang, "Jewish mah-jongg is different" from the way Asians play it.

The tiles that bind? Chang channels a wealth of credits in her bulging bio, which, like a metaphorical "Servant to Two Masters," shows she has mastered the Asian and American stage in an award-winning career.

But some lessons one learns through the years are neither Asian nor Jewish; they are just of the ages.

"I had a hard time understanding my mother as a child, but, now, as a mother myself of a college-age son, I can identify more with her and see," looking back, how smart she has become the older that Chang grows.

Spoken like a true Asian mom with a blintz awaiting her son on his breakfast plate.

And you know what happens if her son doesn't eat everything on his plate.

Info to Go

"The Joy Luck Club," directed by Tisa Chang, and adapted from the novel and screenplay for the stage by Susan Kim, continues to Dec. 1, at the Julia Miles Theatre, 4245 W. 55th St., New York.
For ticket information, call 212-239-6200.

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