The quartet of mothers from feudal China and their American daughters form the heart of Amy Tan's novel, and her screenplay for Wayne Wang's 1993 film. Susan Kim's stage adaptation, which premiered in New York in 1999, presents an inordinate challenge to any director: keeping the four story threads and their spiraling flashbacks, anchored in 1980s San Francisco, from fraying in the morass of Tan's epic landscape. Jon Lawrence Rivera's staging tackles that challenge head-on with the use of John H. Binkley's elegant set and projections that have duel purposes: A kind of suspended parchment scroll unfurls to form the stage floor to unite the whirlwind stories; furthermore, projected titles offer clear chapter headings and the names of characters being “framed,” in order to sustain some clarity of focus. The result of Rivera's noble effort is a kind of duel between dramatic unity and the sprawling essence of Kim's adaptation (and Tan's novel). King Lear, which hangs on the sagas of three daughters and their hubristic father, has a similar theatrical swirl, but imagine adding a fourth daughter, and all their mothers. Rivera gets an array of lovely performances, with particularly striking turns from Celeste Den, Karen Huie and Emily Kuroda. Also Rivera's use of live music adds atmosphere that mostly enhances but occasionally suffocates the tender scenes being played out. David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., Little Tokyo; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through Dec. 5. (213) 625-7000.
Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Nov. 12. Continues through Dec. 21, 2008
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