(Garden Grove, CA) September 14, 2014 – It’s a wonderful feeling when you see a young talented actor at the beginning of their career, you get the sense that the actor possesses “something” that indicates they are going to succeed in their craft. And then many years later, you see that actor thrive, proving that your instincts were correct back then when you first made that discovery. Two examples of this happening to me was when I attended Oxford University on a foreign exchange program in 1995 and I saw two plays in London: Tracey Letts’ “Killer Joe” at the Vaudeville Theatre and Joe Orton’s “What the Butler Saw” at the Royal National (Lyttelton) Theatre. A 21-year-old Michael Shannon was in “Joe” and a 24-year-old David Tennant was in “Butler.” For some odd reason, while watching these two young actors at the beginning of their careers, I knew they were going places. I didn’t know why; I just knew. Jump almost 20 years later, Michael Shannon is now a highly demanded character actor who was nominated for an Oscar in “Revolutionary Road” and is a regular on “Boardwalk Empire” and David Tennant’s performance as one of the latest incarnations of Doctor Who is being considered one of the most popular and favorites of the series.
I had that exact same feeling while watching Michelle Krusiec’s dynamic and tender one-woman show “Made in Taiwan” at Shakespeare Orange County (SOC) in Garden Grove. Before I became a journalist, I was a camera utility (technician) for various NBC shows, including the Peter Engel children sitcoms. One in particular, “One World (1998-2001),” was one of Krusiec’s earliest roles. I was there for 1 ½ seasons before getting shanghaied (no pun intended) to the NBC daytime soap opera “Passions,” the last show I would ever do as a crew member. And during that time on “One World,” out of all the young actors on that show, Krusiec was the most professional and hard-working of her peers, and her comic timing was the best in that group. I had a feeling she would grow in her craft. And for the next fifteen years, I would occasionally see her in both film and television, especially in a frightening turn on the Sci. Fi. series “Fringe”. But when I reviewed her during her starring role at South Coast Repertory’s production of “Chinglish” (you can see my review here), I was amazed as far as how phenomenally she had evolved in terms of her talent. With “Taiwan” being a part of SOC’s season, Artistic Director John Walcutt makes yet another brilliant choice by expanding the theatre company’s outreach to the multicultural community of Garden Grove. Krusiec’s one-woman show has proven that she is one of those rare actors who starts off in the entertainment industry young (late teens/early twenties), stays on course in terms of professional maturity, and develops artistically into a talented actress of stage and screen (big and small).
When we first see Krusiec on the minimalistic stage---decorated with only two, cushioned footrests that serve as seats and three long, bronze, metallic sheets hanging vertically in the background, she sits down, mimes that she is eating something (slurping, actually) and then says her first word in puzzlement, “Noodles.” This sets the stage for Krusiec’s 80-minute theatrical journey as an Asian American girl being raised by her multicultural parents, and how her dominating mother’s idiosyncratic quirks and insecure paranoia not only puts a severe strain on her marriage with her Caucasian father, but also builds a slow rage within Krusiec herself. While narrating the tale, she incorporates characters that play in her personal growth and journey: her father, two aunts, a Caribbean dance instructor and many others. But it is the portrayal of her mother that dominates the show, which is a combination of cynical wit, doubtful self-loathing, and deep-seated anger. Krusiec shows her mother share her far-fetched “wisdom” that is oftentimes laced with shocking profanity, with diverse topics that include: what certain smells of fish remind her of, the importance of wearing makeup and staying thin, how men will always cheat, and how to succeed by being strong and not allowing weakness such as emotions get into the mix. As the show progresses, Krusiec shows the transformation in herself where a subtle kind of loving acceptance and forgiveness comes into being, bringing the journey---both for herself and the audience---towards a satisfactory conclusion.
It must be stated first and foremost that “Made in Taiwan” is a perfect addition for SOC’s evolution in trying to bridge the theatre company to its surrounding multicultural Garden Grove community. Both “Taiwan” and Trieu Tran’s “Unplugged” (the previous show) reveal two sides of Asian American culture in many contrasting ways: “Unplugged” focused on the Vietnamese culture in serious tones and themes, while “Taiwan” paints a small picture of Chinese culture in many humorous moments. With these two shows, SOC is demonstrating a type of cultural diversification and inclusion that is essential not only for those living in Garden Grove, but to those who are not a part of or familiar with those Asian communities. And “Taiwan” adds to SOC’s artistic portfolio in many significant ways.
Krusiec shows two facets of her artistry: actor AND writer. As a writer, her pacing, dialog, and especially her comic touches and timing makes her stand out among her contemporaries when it comes to constructing a one-person show. Her ability to delicately balance the serious and humorous aspects of the show are very specific and meticulous; Andy Belser provides the nuanced guidance and direction which completes the creative foundation of the work. Krusiec is a very funny writer and this talent elevates “Taiwan” to new levels of subtly and artistry, not only in terms of her narrative voice and dialogue, but also physical comedy---watch for a unique kind of “puppet show” she does when her mother and her friends share their thoughts regarding Krusiec losing her virginity; it is undoubtedly the funniest moment in the play.
But Krusiec’s acting is what ties “Taiwan” together. Even during her early acting years, Krusiec’s comic timing was evident. But her skills and abilities come to full bloom, especially in her self-deprecating narrative regarding her own insecurities growing up as an Asian American girl. Her portrayals of the many characters in the show are performed with such incredible fluidity, mainly due to her training as a dancer. From her facial expressions to her subtle movements with her body, Krusiec exhibits a superior kind of grace on the stage. By combining that grace with her inborn talent to capture the many characters she portrays---especially the powerfully poignant way she switches from her mother to herself at the end of the play when they say goodbye to each other---Krusiec adds incredible levels of humanity to her performance, which enhances her status as a talented artist of her generation.
For Walcutt’s second season as artistic director, he should schedule additional one-person shows that successfully examine the multifaceted aspects of Garden Grove’s cultural melting pot, such as “Unplugged” and especially “Made in Taiwan.” By doing so, Shakespeare Orange County’s presence as a potent theater company will serve as a boon not only for Garden Grove, but for Orange County and beyond.
Peter A. Balaskas is a journalist, fiction writer, editor, and voice over artist.
Made in Taiwan runs SEPTEMBER 14, 21, 28; EACH CURTAIN IS AT 7:30PM.
Shakespeare Orange County
The Festival Amphitheatre, 12740 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA
Photos by Mimi Haddon (poster) and Mark Turek (live shots)