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Review: KRISTINA WONG, SWEATSHOP OVERLORD at La Jolla Playhouse

Review: KRISTINA WONG, SWEATSHOP OVERLORD at La Jolla Playhouse

Unlike the pandemic, this is a limited run through October 16th

Sometimes sewing can be an act of love and war at the same time. In KRISTINA WONG, SWEATSHOP OVERLORD, playing at La Jolla Playhouse through October 16th performance artist Kristina Wong gives a funny, sweet, and bittersweet journey of how one woman accidentally became a mask sewing overlord from behind her Hello Kitty sewing machine. It's the comedic rundown of the pandemic that you didn't know you needed.

The show opens with some trigger warnings of what will be covered - the pandemic, politics, healthcare, existential anxiety about who you are, being isolated during a seemingly impossible series of consecutive events, and racism. But at its center is the creation and distribution of what proved to be an incredibly divisive topic no one could have seen coming -face masks for the health and safety of yourself and others.

Even though we haven't yet reached the end of the covid crisis (have you gotten your booster yet?) or the politics of it all (are you registered to vote in the upcoming midterms?) this show is a delightfully acidic palette cleanser that makes you laugh out loud for real. The best way to take the sting out of something is to laugh at it.

Wong tells her story of going from a working performance artist one day, to finding out theatres (and the world) were closing and finding herself with time on her hands while quarantined in her apartment in Koreatown in Los Angeles. After seeing the need for masks, and being armed with sewing skills taught to her as a child, she created the Auntie Sewing Squad. Together this group of friends, family, and other volunteers from all over sewed, planned, and strategized to help create and send masks to those in need when masks were a valuable commodity; all of it was overseen by Wong, the Sewing Overlord herself.

Wong performs at high energy, and the pacing and writing of the show showcase not just her personality but also bring plenty of satirical commentaries, and dark humor to serious events. She also gets the audience in on the action, asking them to "donate" elastic from clothing, getting the audience to read off reasons to not get the vaccine, or screaming an obscenity to release some steam.

Directed by Chay Yew, the show navigates the highs and lows, the laughter and the tears, and the time period while it also celebrates the ways people connected, worked tirelessly to help others, and forged unbreakable bonds while under the stress of a global pandemic.

Review: KRISTINA WONG, SWEATSHOP OVERLORD at La Jolla Playhouse

Wong performs on stage along with oversized sewing supplies including giant tomato-shaped pin cushions, a massive seam ripper, post office boxes of many colors, and in the center is her (actual sized) Hello Kitty sewing machine. It is both a whimsical comedic scenic design by Junghyun Georgia Lee, and also evokes that fever dream feeling when you think back on the topsy turvy events of the last few years.

Lighting by Amith Chandrashaker with projections by Caite Hevner, and sound design by Mikhail Fiksel help to finish and highlight the moods and events of the story. Costume design by Linda Cho turns Wong from a trendy black jumpsuit-clad citizen to a pink camouflage-wearing action hero with the snap of a few buttons

It might seem like Kristina Wong, SWEATSHOP OVERLORD is preaching to the vaccinated and mask-wearing choir here, but before the show started I overheard a gentleman proclaiming that "The pandemic was never that bad and it's over now" proving that a refresher of the events may seem too soon but is good for those that easily forget.

How To Get Tickets

Kristina Wong, SWEATSHOP OVERLORD is playing at La Jolla Playhouse through October 16th. For ticket and showtime information go to www.lajollaplayhouse.org


Photo Credit: Kristina Wong, SWEATSHOP OVERLORD La Jolla Playhouse, and Jenna Selby



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