Writer-performer Sandra Tsing Loh dedicates her new show, “Aliens in America,” to all mixed-ethnicity families. But her series of three comic monologues is, in fact, very much bound to her own history. Though she doesn’t mention Tolstoy’s famous comment about all unhappy families wallowing in their own special misery, the sentiment is implicit. Loh, of course, isn’t interested in any deep meanings here; her concerns involve the human comedy. And under the attentive direction of David Schweizer, Loh manages an evening filled with yuks, for her family’s unique mishegaas is, indeed, very funny.
The tripartite structure of “Aliens” gives us Loh in the present, during her childhood and right after her freshman year at college. She starts in the here and now, discussing her father’s search for a new wife in “My Father’s Chinese Wives.” Having endured a rough marriage to Sandra’s mother (a German woman), her father (a Shanghai native) seeks a Chinese bride. Loh takes the news well, better than her sister does, but with some trepidation. Her father, a skinflint of epic proportion, is not an easy man to get along with, and his adventures in the romance trade are the stuff of guffaws. But though Loh does a fine job imitating the new women in her father’s life (the stepmother singing on the phone is a gem), her insightful characterization of dear old dad will have auds roaring. Loh’s occasional attempts at deeper truths tend to fall flat, but when she sticks to the strictly comic, the results are very gratifying.
Better still is “Ethiopian Vacation,” an homage to her exuberant Teutonic mother set in 1969. Loh’s loquacious, champagne-loving mom was one of those people who somehow managed to put a happy face on just about everything, a useful skill when one is married to a tightwad. So when Loh’s father determines that Ethiopia would make an excellent family vacation spot, her mother turns it into a veritable safari. The tale of their terrible trip, which Loh delivers in a superb German accent, proves delightfully humorous, but more importantly, it emerges as a touching tribute to a woman who was quite clearly exceptional.
“Musk” finds Loh in 1981, just after her first year at university and home for the summer. Having just experienced newfound freedom, to say nothing of boys, Loh feels trapped back in her old house, with her crazy parents, a telephone that never rings and no car. For the most part, this monologue focuses on Loh as an awkward girl, unaware of her potential. But though she is fearless in mocking her own shortcomings, Loh depends too much on irony, forcing auds to deal with a series of painful situations from a distance.
As in “Bad Sex With Bud Kemp,” Loh’s last show at the Tiffany, Schweizer directs with an assured, busy hand. He knows that movement is essential in this type of show. Jason Adams’ set, mostly walls comprised of white take-out boxes, frames the action well, as does Rand Ryan’s varied lighting. J Payne/Catasonic’s sound design, which even includes music by John Adams, adds further texture.