by Gregory Zura

The Joy Luck Club

Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center

Through Feb 9.

Understanding the intentions and expectations of one's family is never easy. In The Joy Luck Club, the relationship between mothers and daughters seems particularly intricate and difficult.

The play, based on Amy Tan's best-selling novel, explores the lives of four Chinese women--Suyuan Woo, Lindo Jong, An-mei Hsu, and Ying Ying St. Clair--and their American--raised daughters, beautifully dramatizing the hardships of those familial intentions of their Chinese past and the expectations of their daughters raised with Western ideals.

Taking the place of her recently deceased mother in the Joy Luck Club (the monthly gathering of the four elder women to play mahjong and gossip), Jing-mei (played effortlessly by Katie Tupper) seeks the help of the others to piece together the memory of her mother. Each woman shares the memories, both despairing and joyous, that are pivotal to their own histories. In realizing that "to despair is to prolong," they are able to accept the past hardships and realize they are the better for it.

As if to illustrate that memories are often dark and murky, blackness fills most of the stage and the set lingers in shadows. With a nod to the shadow-puppet theater style of the East, a couple of scrims are used to great effect. The set, however, is ominously large--gigantic--and works not only as a hindrance to the movement of the actors but also as a hindrance in creating moments of intimacy.

Director David Hsieh should be applauded not only for his fluid adaptation of the novel without being influenced by Wayne Wang's popular film version, but also for managing the enormous cast of over 20 (!). While the actors vary in talent, the sheer volume of people on stage gives dramatic moments an epic quality and celebratory moments a genuine joy.