by Brian Sonia-Wallace
Kristina Wong is a natural performer, and though her show doesn’t entirely escape the stereotypes of a one-woman show, it mostly puts them aside to focus on her hilarious and often ill-fated adventures attempting to live a more eco-friendly life. Ms. Wong’s comedian persona has the charm and crass humor of a Sarah Silverman, balancing scenes filled with dry-humping plastic bags and re-usable feminine hygiene products with an indomitable ‘cute-ness’ and a sprinkling of statistics. Her show escapes the meandering self-indulgence of most one-person shows by sticking tightly to its theme and escapes the preaching of environmentalists by sticking tightly to Ms. Wong’s keen sense of absurdity. The combination works.
The show begins anti-climactically, with Ms. Wong introducing herself and starting a slide-show presentation about a car she used to have, a hot pink dinosaur converted to run on vegetable oil that racked up twice its worth in repair bills before bursting into flame. While not terribly theatrical, the presentation is engaging as it shows Ms. Wong’s meticulously chronicled life in photos, posing next to her car in its sickness and health. We are struck by an eerie sense throughout that she knows that each moment in her life is a photo op for a future one-woman show. Which is probably true.
Thanks to the inclusion of a gruff, male Mother Earth character who gives instructions from on high, we transition seamlessly back in time to the beginning of Ms. Wong’s quest ‘to save the planet’. We watch her middle and high school selves come to terms with environmental issues through awkward school PSAs and performances, including a rap. The school bits provide a fun play-within-a-play and allow Ms. Wong to show off her range of characters. The rap is very bad, but that’s the point, so…eh. That’s about as much as we get in terms of narrative structure, moving back to the present for an elongated “so sexy!” talk on re-usable feminine hygiene products and my personal highlight of the show, a very technical, factual explanation of public transit in LA which is easily the most absurd moment in Going Green the Wong Way.
The show raises a few questions for me, but they center mostly around its subject matter rather than presentation. Theatrically the performance is great, and, with the exception of some hokey audience participation that feels tacked on, it keeps its focus and its humor throughout. The ‘going green’ part seems a bit more dubious to me, focusing largely on getting rid of a car and the humor of that decision’s impracticality in Los Angeles. The angle is one of personal obligation—Ms. Wong’s environmentalism seems to be more out of an engrained moral sense that recycling is good and driving is bad than out of a studied sense of what ‘going green’ entails. For instance, Ms. Wong mentions the fact that she is a vegetarian in passing, which ecologically and politically in the US is a big deal, but then hightails it back to more sensationalist subjects. Equally, the whole ‘washable pads’ section lost its shock-and-education value after the first few minutes but kept going. I suppose I wanted more science, but I always want more science and I suspect I am in the minority. Going Green the Wong Way is headed to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August after its LA run, and it will be interesting to see how the show translates to a walkable European city with great public transit.
All this said, what’s interesting about this show thematically is how natural and unforced the lines of green thought feel, in that causal LA ‘but is it organic?’ way. Ms. Wong makes only joking references to being an ecological warrior—she is a comedian and an artist first, and it seems ‘going green’ is just something she does because it’s right, not as a radical alternative lifestyle choice. The comedy in the show is how, in LA, that becomes a radical lifestyle choice because of how far it is from the norm. And this struggle is the heart Going Green the Wong Way‘s serious provocation of thought too. ‘Going green’ for Ms. Wong is done with great difficulty and in such a way that it inevitably becomes a performance piece. Without the comedian ever mentioning it, this speaks volumes to the chances of a real green transition without policy change, and to the performative motivations of Prius drivers and the like everywhere.
It’s worth noting that the uncredited set design and Paul Tei’s direction are right on the money. Going Green the Wong Way also apparently has one, if not more, corporate sponsorships from green business, which on the night I saw the show framed the performance with outside presentations and sign-ups and free soap. I’m uncertain about how to feel about this. On the one hand, surely corporate sponsorship is evil and nasty and certainly must bias the show. On the other, it’s nice to see green businesses taking community and social change seriously and investing in the arts, particularly in an economic climate when few others are.
Going Green the Wong Way may not change your car dependence or even your mind, but it offers up a good night’s laughs and, if you’re willing to delve further, some interesting and problematic thoughts as well.
Going Green The Wong Way is performed Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 3pm June 28-July 22, 2012,
The Bootleg Theater is located at2220 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90057.
Ticket price: $15.
Reservations at www.bootlegtheater.org.