Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews

Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord

Theatre Review by David Hurst - November 4, 2021

Kristina Wong
Photo by Joan Marcus
If almost two years of pandemic stress, anxiety and depression still have you on edge, the new offering at the New York Theatre Workshop may be just what you need to start taking that edge off. Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord, a wacky hybrid of stand-up comedy, history lesson, and performance art, won't replace your Paxil prescription or your therapist, but, unless you have a heart of stone, it's guaranteed to make you laugh. And who can put a price on that kind of theatrical magic?

When the pandemic struck, Wong, a Los Angeles based Chinese-American artist whose work has been presented internationally, was performing her latest show in community college lecture halls. That show, Kristina Wong for Public Office, which highlighted her unpaid role as the elected representative of Wilshire Center Koreatown Subdistrict 5 Neighborhood Council, came to an abrupt halt along with her performing income. By day three of the pandemic, and after seeing a request on Facebook, Wong began sewing masks "out of bedsheets and bra straps on her Hello Kitty sewing machine." But after over-committing herself to mask requests, Wong quickly began organizing her friends and family, including her mother, to assist her in the sewing. She became the leader of the Auntie Sewing Squad, a volunteer group of mostly Asian-American women in 33 states who sewed more than 350,000 masks for people in need all over the country.

Wong's 90-minute, intermission-less show is a bracing dose of silliness, fortitude and inspiration, even if it would benefit from some minimal editing. A charismatic performer with a natural ease in front of an audience, Wong has a likeable stage presence that lends itself beautifully to storytelling laced with stand-up one-liners. The ultimate motivator, we should seriously consider sending Wong to Washington, D.C., where she could teach our representatives a thing or two about getting the job done, and where she could be our much-needed Congressional Overlord.

Smoothly directed by Chay Yew, Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord benefits mightily from NYTW's newly refurbished three-quarter thrust stage (as opposed to their old proscenium space), and Junghyun Georgia Lee's eye-popping, colorful set is the perfect blend of Charlie Brown and Mister Rogers. Mikhail Fiksel's well-balanced sound, Amith Chandrashaker's unobtrusive lighting, and Linda Cho's whimsical costumes all strike the right notes. And all the production elements come together for a heartwarming ending (yes, I said heartwarming ending) that will have even hardened New Yorkers wiping their eyes and calling their mothers.

Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord
Through November 21, 2021
New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: