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[whitespace] 'Aliens in America'
Photograph by Chris Bennion

Highs and Loh: 'Aliens in America' is a one-woman show based on Sandra Tsing Loh's book of the same name.

Strange Land

Sandra Tsing Loh serves up a humorous slice of American life

By Heather Zimmerman

IN Aliens in America, Sandra Tsing Loh's comedy about multiculturalism in the United States, one is more likely to see aliens of the little green X-Files variety than a single person who could be genuinely classified an alien in that other, earthly sense--a "foreigner." Not in the America that Loh shows us--a country, after all, created largely by immigration from other countries. San Jose Repertory Theatre presents Loh's play, a warmly humorous slice of life that proves the average American is a stranger who has helped forge a strange land.

Aliens in America is a one-woman show written and performed by Loh comprising three vignettes from her book, also titled Aliens in America, based on her growing up in 1960s Southern California, the daughter of a gregarious German mother and a more tacit, scientific Chinese father. Each of Loh's tales recounts a different stage of her life and offers a different perspective on the Loh family.

The adult Loh starts off the show with "My Father's Chinese Wives," a story set in the present day about how her now-widowed, seventysomething father has been seeking a mail-order bride from China, with mixed success. Then, in flashback, Loh's childhood is summed up by "Ethiopian Vacation," an "educational" trip that ends up giving the entire family a spectacular lesson in international relations. Lastly, we see Loh asserting her independence as a college freshman with her first boyfriend in "Musk."

Loh adeptly and often hilariously portrays every character, shifting her posture and vocal patterns, sometimes adopting heavy accents to imitate everyone from her hunched, eccentric father to her rageball sister, constantly aquiver in fury, to her glamorous, dramatic mother, who speaks in a vigorous Germanic purr somewhat reminiscent of Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles. Her portrayals are equal parts parody, taking jokey stabs at stereotypes and loving reminiscences. Occasionally, though, Loh's thick accents and manic delivery garble entire sentences--a shame because Loh's well-crafted storytelling is the foundation of the play.

In one of the show's best moments, Loh describes the meeting of her parents--an unlikely match, but due much more to their personalities than their nationalities. Loh attributes her parents' mutual attraction to the appeal of her father's big American car, a Buick, set against the dreamy atmosphere of 1950s L.A.--and to the fact that each of her parents had immigrated to the U.S. recently, and they had their "foreignness" in common. But the family life Loh goes on to describe is unique to a country that encompasses so many different peoples: growing up with some Chinese traditions, but getting sent to elementary school clad in Heidi-style dirndls and braids.

Her family stories offer both personal memories and universal experiences, but happily, Loh's tales don't offer anything resembling a theme of melting-pot sameness; much more, her stories reflect a simultaneously discordant and harmonious coexistence of cultures and of individuals, both unique and common in a country populated almost entirely by "aliens" and their descendants.


Aliens in America plays at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose, Tuesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3 and 8pm, Sunday at 2 and 7pm. Tickets are $17-$37. (408.367.7255)

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From the February 15-21, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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