By Donna Herman
Kristina Wong is unafraid. She calls it like she sees it and she will tell you all about it. She also puts her money – and her time, her energy and her caring – where her mouth is. That’s how “Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord” got born.
Wong is a performance artist, comedienne, writer, actress and activist. Her life is her art, and her art is her life. There’s not even a fine line between the two. “Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord” is a one-woman show about her experience of starting a national Facebook group during the pandemic that turned their “living rooms into “sweatshops” because of the failure of the Federal Government to provide proper PPE to essential workers and vulnerable communities.” They sewed masks. So far, 350,000 of them. And none of them for sale – all to give away.
But “Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord” isn’t a dreary political rant, it’s wry, funny, passionate, sarcastic, and filled with heart. In the heat of the birthing moment when the idea came to her, she named her group Auntie Sewing Squad. Not realizing that she’d just named it ASS.
At first, Wong thought it would be a three- or four-week project that would end when more masks arrived from China and the shortage was over. But, as we all know, that didn’t happen. More and more Aunties signed up, including Wong’s mother and father who came to be known as Overlord Mommy and Overlord Daddy, in the group that wound up numbering 800. Because of course, Wong was the Overlord. But she makes very clear, not a Dictator. She was coordinating logistics but had a LOT of help from other Aunties who took care of caring for other Aunties by providing food, for instance. Or website help, or spreadsheet help. Because this was war. And no single person can win a war.
Wong makes it very clear in “Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord” that the battle being fought is not just against Covid-19. It’s a battle against marginalization, racism, corruption, and elitism. She is pointed in bringing up the links between her Chinese heritage and her ability to sew and the fact that Asian immigrants to this country have been relegated to that work.
She does it with a compelling, often very funny and sarcastic viewpoint that almost seems cartoonish. The cartoon notion is reinforced by the marvelous set by Junghyun Georgia Lee of oversized pincushions, spools of thread, bolts of fabric, and Fed Ex boxes. And Linda Cho’s Overlord costume which has playful elements like a bandolier of spools of thread. Unfortunately, the comic book element tends to settle into a strident tone that could use a little more dynamics, if I’m nit-picking.
The piece is structured in days of the pandemic, starting with March 12, 2020 (Day 1) when Wong, a California resident, performed her last one-woman show in Sacramento and Governor Gavin Newsome announced their lockdown. And it goes through Day 504, September 25, 2021. A far cry from Wong’s beginning expectations. And it ends with some questions. “Friends. We have survived until this moment. Who are the people who helped you survive this? What do you hope for as we move forward? Will you be generous in more than times of crisis?”
“Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord” Written and Performed by Kristina Wong, Directed by Chay Yew
Scenic Design by Junghyun Georgia Lee; Costume Design by Linda Cho; Lighting Design by Amith Chandrashaker; Sound Design by Mikhail Fiksel; Projection Design by Caite Hevner; Stage Manager, Katie Allinger; Joanne Pan, Assistant Stage Manager. Presented by New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street, NYC. Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission. Vaccination Card & ID and masks required. For tickets visit the Box Office at 79 East 4th Street, Monday 2pm-6pm, Tuesday-Sunday 2pm to curtain. Or visit: https://www.nytw.org/show/kristina-wong-sweatshop-overlord/tickets/