“We’re not here to make fun of the Chinese,” one character pleads in the first minutes of China: The Whole Enchilada, “We want to educate people, not insult anyone.” But what plays well for the “P.C. Police” doesn’t necessarily play well on stage. And since education is not inherently theatrical, author Mark Brown has channeled his five-millennium Chinese history lesson into a 90-minute variety show hosted by three whiteskinned lug-heads, each struggling to assert their own conflicting objectives. And so the “politically correct”
Gina (Gina Torrecilla) admonishes the ignoramus Greg (Gregory Guy Gordon) – who confuses China with Japan – all to be upstaged by Andi (Andi Dema) who fears China as a super-power. Who doesn’t? Well, Mark Brown for one…
Winner of Outstanding Musical at the 2008 NY Fringe, China: The Whole Enchilada is less traditional musical than vaudevillian act – a series of skits and musical numbers arranged by Paul Mirkovch… send-ups of existing songs or riffs on genre. Director Allison Bibicoff injects the show with a hearty embrace of vaudeville’s aesthetic – its zany antics, playful choreography and broad humor. From the pacing to the performances to the unified environment, Bibicoff’s staging magnifies the show’s wit without compromising its darker undertones. Even before curtain, songs like David Bowie’s China Girl hint at a complicated relationship. And Aaron Francis’ set, with its animated slides and a singing stuffed dragon, is a tongue-in-cheek reminder that we’ve entered the world of “other.” With a similar wink, the actors play to the audience, as often as to each other. The play was originally written for “three white guys,” but as the company’s “straight man,” Gina Torrecilla gives a strong performance – hard to imagine a male doing it better. Gregory Guy Gordon is less comfortable listening than when basking in his own buffoonery. Andi Dema is charming as the play’s most entitled “white man” though he sometimes anticipates. Understandably, there’s a lot for these actors to keep up with especially when Brown loses sight of the goals he set up for each character.
China: The Whole Enchilada ultimately achieves its goal; it both entertains and illuminates – like one big Google search into China’s history where you keep clicking on the sidebars. What results is a slightly schizophrenic irreverent romp through China’s history as well as The West’s relationship to it – the imperialism, exploitation and racism. But it’s through this disarmingly comic world that we learn about the Ming Dynasty, Red Eyebrows, Chairman Mao, bloodbaths and royal murders as well as the shameful history of Chinese immigration into the U.S. One of the most entertaining numbers is the “Khan Khan” a can-can about the Mongolian invasion of China led by Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan and Ricardo Montalban from “The Wrath of Khan.” But when the jokes rely too heavily on little-known facts, the humor is lost – such as in the retelling of Chinese dynasties as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings sagas or the sections on Flash Gordon and Fu Manchu. If you don’t know the truth, you won’t get the spoof. And one shouldn’t have to read the CliffsNotes in the program (though they were much appreciated after the fact) to keep up with what’s unfolding on stage. In the end, China: The Whole Enchilada’s strongest moments come when its characters explore more emotional terrain as in they do in “Lotus Shoes” – a song about foot binding – and “Is It Wrong” about the Rape of Nanking. The stage is no place for education but it’s a great place for feeling!
China: The Whole Enchilada – book and lyrics by Mark Brown, Musical Arrangements by Paul Mirkovich; Directed and choreographed by Allison Bibicoff
WITH: Andi Dema (Andi), Gregory Guy Gordon (Greg), Gina Torrecilla (Gina)
Designed by Aaron Francis; lighting by Lemon Baardsen; sound & video by J Warner; costumes by Misti Soper; props by Aviva Pressman; produced by Brian Wallis; assistant director, Kyle Nudo; stage manager, Bo Powell. Presented by Sacred Fools Theater, At 660 N. Heliotrope, Hollywood, CA 90004. Tickets are $15 at www.sacredfools.org <http://www.sacredfools.org> or by calling (310) 281-8337. Tuesdays & Wednesdays 8pm through March 12. Running time: 90 minutes.