An ex-girlfriend of mine was “made in Taiwan” but we ended on a very sour note. Michelle Krusiec's one-woman play of the same name ends on an empowered note. I was a fan (OK, had the hots) before I even knew who she was. She had a small role as a sexy masseuse (yes, the happy ending kind) on an excellent HBO sleeper series called The Mind of the Married Man. Not to bemoan the obvious typecasting, she parleyed an early career rub-n-tug into a 2004 Sundance premiere in director Alice Wu's romantic comedy Saving Face. In it she was even better, endearingly carving out an awkward character simultaneously conflicted by her closeted lesbianism and her distressed mother’s (played by the still very hot Joan Chen) mid-life crises.
Although she's appeared in numerous TV and film projects, Krusiec is probably still able to walk into a Whole Foods and not be immediately recognized. This type of approachability is helpful if you're going to do a solo stage performance in a small East Village theatre, which is where I caught her last night. Made in Taiwan is Krusiec's life story, but more specifically it's a cathartic performance about her relationship with her adopted Chinese mother (in actuality, her aunt). Her father—who is portrayed by Krusiec onstage as a stiff and somewhat resigned punching bag for her mother—is American and the couple raised her in the States since she was 5.
Made in Taiwan starts with the small theatre in pitch darkness, and all you hear are repeated slurping sounds. When the lights fade in, the cute but very dressed down Krusiec has her face buried in a bowl of soup. She launches immediately into a humorous diatribe of a childhood where nearly every meal consisted of noodles. The solo play takes her from her adolescence to womanhood, all along riffing off the rough, trying, but ultimately loving exchanges with her mother.
Krusiec deftly capturing her overbearing and disapproving mother's character—usually in overtly funny ways such as when her mom mixes up insults to an obviously black driver, calling her a fucker mother—but you never feel that her love is lacking for this woman. Exactly the opposite. At no more than 5'2″, she also brought a surprising physicality to the production, especially during a particularly dark part of the show when she was recounting her mom's horrible fights with her dad over accusations of his infidelity. Krusiec isn't afraid to let things get ugly and proves her metal as an actor by exposing all the messy sides of families—Asian, black, white or other. At only a few times do you feel she's playing to the audience, and those are quickly swept away by another full frontal dose of her own reality. Like the time she loses her virginity to a boy her mom disapproves of because he doesn't have any money. “Mom, he's sixteen!”
At the end, I could hear sniffles from the audience, and from a glance, it seemed mostly from Asian women. If I could see enough truth in Krusiec's bittersweet story, I'm sure none of it was lost on them. It's so important for honest and unvarnished autobiographies to get made, and there's talk of Made in Taiwan becoming a TV pilot down the line. Catching Krusiec's play is gonna be tough, but Netflix Saving Face tomorrow. Personal stories like this, especially ones with such resonance, should rightfully push aside Hollywood's homogenized and fantasy versions. I could tell by the tears in the audience one other thing: Michelle Krusiec might be getting recognized at Whole Foods very soon.
If you're in NYC today, Jun 16th, check out Made in Taiwan here. Otherwise, the production May come to a Los Angeles stage in the near future. Krusiec is also starring with Eva Mendes in the not yet released Live!.
(photo credit: Estevan Oriol)