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Review: Kristina Wong – What She Did During The Pandemic

"Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overloard," Kirk Douglas Theatre, Culver City, Feb. 12 – Mar. 15, 2023


Feb. 19, 2023 | By Bruce R. Feldman


In Brief: A gratifying evening of satire and pointed commentary from an exuberant performer who has a lot to say and does so with unflinching humor and unshakable humanity. See it.


Comedian/activist/satirist Kristina Wong

Comedian Kristina Wong’s touring schedule abruptly ended when the Covid-19 lockdown hit in March 2020. She began sewing masks out of clothing scraps and bra straps on her Hello Kitty sewing machine. To keep up with the demand from hospitals and healthcare providers facing a global shortage, she enlisted hundreds of homebound volunteer mask makers.


Yes, social media has some benefits.


Wong named her group the Auntie Sewing Squad, or ASS, which gives you some idea of the monologist’s raucous, irreverent approach to her subject. She tells the story of what started on a whim and a prayer and continued over 17 adrenaline-charged months in her bracingly funny solo show, Sweatshop Overlord.


This Center Theatre Group and East West Players co-production is now at the Kirk Douglas Theater after a critically acclaimed New York City run for which she was a named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in the drama category.


Wong is fierce, insightful, opinionated, spirited, compassionate, irrepressible. Above all, she’s hilarious, bounding about the stage as she unburdens herself of the unanticipated challenges of running a virtual sweatshop from her Korea Town apartment and the tensions of the anti-Asian racism that resurfaced vengefully during the pandemic. Remember the Kung Flu?


She doesn’t limit herself to those themes. She also takes aim at right-wing hegemony, sexism, discrimination, injustice, and women’s issues in general. And she reflects on the stress of living under long-term isolation, her Chinese-American heritage, and her ongoing work with Asian and Native American communities.


It’s a lot for one person to tackle in one evening. But the stimulating 90 minutes without intermission fly by, generating a well-earned standing ovation from an appreciative audience. You don’t want it to end.


Chay Yew directed the presentation, bringing harmony to Wong’s wide-ranging observations and energetic performance style. Junghyun Georgia Lee’s fanciful set adds immeasurably to the evening’s pleasures. It’s a colorful, exaggerated sewing room with an oversized pin cushion, giant spools of thread, and, of course, the Hello Kitty sewing machine at its center.


Is Wong a performance artist, satirist, monologist, dramatist, cultural observer, activist, comedian? The artist describes herself as a “know-it-all social justice warrior.” Call her what you want. The bottom line is she has a lot on her mind, and she’s very, very funny.


Sweatshop Overlord is a must-see.


"Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord," Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (213) 628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org

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