Six’s Soft Upper Lip

A 1909 piece in The New York Times called for men to shave off their upper-lip adornments. “A moustache,” the article claimed, “is not conducive to greatness.” A century later, playwright Michael Lew has disproved this conjecture. Though overlong and strained toward its end, Lew’s The Moustache Guys displays a surfeit of comic genius.

The concluding play in Six, an evening of one-acts by Asian-American writers, The Moustache Guys uses these crumb catchers to excellent effect. A suspicious wife dons a false set of whiskers to try to infiltrate the International Order of the Moustache Guys, a secret sect her husband has joined. She searches for him among such mustachioed brethren as Barbershop Quartetist, Kung Fu Master, Kentucky Prosecutor, Frida Kahlo, and The Year 1977.

The Moustache Guys, like most of the evening’s plays, addresses ethnicity only glancingly. (The husband, like many Asian-American men before him, is himself unable to grow a mustache. Like his wife, he relies on a fake one.) Indeed, the plays have very little that unite them, although three do feature some form of air guitar. For the most part, they exist independently, sharing some of the same cast members, but presenting little overlap in form, character, or concerns.

Julia Cho offers perhaps the most proficient piece, Round and Round, about a couple on the verge of divorce. The husband (Joel de al Fuente), a linguist, can wax eloquent about Esperanto but can’t find the words to hold onto his marriage. Patricia Jang’s heavy-handed Ein Berliner also concerns a sort of breakup: the dissolution of a friendship between two men. Rehana Mirza’s trite A Dose of Reality features a wife making a public-access show of her own unsatisfactory life, while Sung Rno’s turbulent The Trajectory of a Heart, Fractured presents a husband trying to put his thoughts in order just prior to a plane crash.

Intermittently amusing, Ralph B. Pena’s Tail stars the superb Jodi Lin as a breathy would-be seductress, subjecting a suitor to an endless string of voice messages. “As you know,” Lin coos, “I come from, um, Asia . . . . A racial cocktail, with a just a teeny touch of bitters. . . . Inside, I have real . . . you know, pain. Do you like pained Asians?” It would be difficult to dislike Lin, pained or otherwise. Perhaps Lew can set up her lonely character with one of his mustache guys. I bet British Colonialist would just adore her.

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