Review: Kristina Wong’s pandemic mission is a must-see present

Performance artist, comic and group activist Kristina Wong is delivering the pandemic debriefing I didn’t know the way badly I wanted.

She’s introduced her acclaimed solo present, “Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord,” a 2022 Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama, again dwelling to town that spawned its creation. Under the unobtrusive but nurturing course of Chay Yew, Wong is unleashed in all her vibrant, wacky, lovably chaotic immediacy.

The stage has been arrange (underneath the auspices of scenic designer Junghyun Georgia Lee) as a playroom model of Wong’s stitching house in Koreatown, the place she not solely lives but in addition serves as an elected consultant on the Neighborhood Council. A Hello Kitty stitching machine stands on the prepared.

In March 2020, simply as California’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order went into impact, Wong swung into superhero motion. As a solo performer who had been making the rounds of the group faculty circuit, she wasn’t thought-about a vital employee. But she rapidly made herself indispensable.

“Sweatshop Overlord” reenacts with puckish commentary how she found her mission because the epidemiological information went from unhealthy to worse. Clutching a cellphone that turns into not solely a private lifeline but in addition a public scorching line, Wong assembles an outfit (courtesy of costume designer Lindo Cho) that’s half Rambo, half Jane Fonda aerobics video. She’s ready for battle.

The real-life story is as frenetic as it’s inspiring. Combining her stitching expertise together with her group outreach know-how, Wong organized a small military of largely Asian American ladies to stitch material masks for populations in determined want of them. In a rebuke of the nation’s capitalist creed, orders had been prioritized round vulnerability.

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Breathlessly, Wong recounts how she constructed her operation and have become its wisecracking overlord. Sewing has been dismissed as ladies’s work and undervalued as immigrant labor. But Wong finds significant connection to her heritage by way of a ability that, as she notes, was “passed down from the elder women” in her household.

At a time when President Trump was responding to COVID-19 with inflammatory rhetoric and anti-Asian violence was on the rise, Wong refused to really feel like an outsider in her personal nation. But she knew that the streets of Koreatown had been eerily abandoned and that carrying a masks might make her a possible goal of road violence.

“Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord” on the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

(Javier Vasquez)

“It doesn’t matter if I’m third-generation Chinese American,” she says. Pointing to her personal unmasked face, she explains, “This is a mask I can’t take off. It already tells people that maybe I’m an immigrant from the monolith that is Asia. Maybe I don’t speak English. Maybe I’m the one who brought the virus here.”

To defend her well being risked endangering her public security. The horrific irony wasn’t misplaced on Wong, however her intuition to translate the expertise into political satire must wait. America wanted on-the-ground heroes, and he or she was decided to reply the decision.

With the assistance of Facebook, she assembled a community of stitching “aunties” who might manufacture material masks from their stitching stations at dwelling. She texted everybody she knew for cloth, be it bedsheets or beloved shirts. She hunted down elastic far and extensive and accepted donations of headbands, hair ties and even bras.

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She wasn’t doing it for CNN glory, however shifting the general public narrative was life-sustaining at a time when her group’s id felt underneath assault. The forces of racism and fascism gained energy through the pandemic, so she conscripted further employees — children included — in her social justice stitching marketing campaign.

Wong provides a set off warning firstly of the present, which essentially offers with “death, illness, poverty, mental health stressors, racism, trauma, the last U.S. president.” The mosaic of horrible information consists of the homicide of George Floyd, the rise of anti-maskers and the Jan. 6 rebel.

Disheartened by what the pandemic revealed in regards to the nation, Wong repeatedly stops to ask, “Is America a banana republic disguised as a democracy?” She doesn’t have a solution, however she exhorts us not to surrender the battle.

This sanity-boosting recap of a horrendously tough interval is simply what the physician ordered. I’m readier than I may need been in 2021, when “Sweatshop Overlord” had its premiere at New York Theatre Workshop, to collectively course of the latest traumatic cascade. (CTG, which introduced a digital manufacturing of Wong’s looser present “Kristina Wong for Public Office” at nighttime days of 2020, received the timing excellent.)

A collaboration between Center Theatre Group and East West Players, with further help from Skirball Cultural Center, this presentation of “Sweatshop Overlord” throws its arms across the viewers in a compassionate embrace that tightens at moments right into a agency shake. Factories at the moment are in a position to provide higher high quality masks to satisfy the problem of wilier new variants, however the communal work continues.

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What was the motivation of Wong’s volunteers, a few of whom had been dealing with dire well being and financial crises as they stitched love and safety for fellow Americans? A message was being despatched to “broken systems” all over the place, Wong concludes, that human beings are “not expendable.”

‘Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord’

Where: Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232
When: 8 p.m.Tuesdays-Fridays, 2:30 and eight p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 12. (Call for exceptions.)
Cost: $30-$79 (topic to alter)
Running time: 1 hours, 40 minutes, with no intermission.
Info: (213) 628-2772 or
COVID protocol: Check for present and up to date data.