“Please, no plays about the pandemic.” I remember as early on as April of 2020 theatre-twitter was begging playwrights and creators to take heed – we did not and do not want to see art about the pandemic; especially while we are still living in the pandemic.
Kristina Wong’s Sweatshop Overlord may be the one exception.
Intimately staged at New York Theatre Workshop, Wong immediately invites the audience in to join her on the ups and downs of her unique pandemic experience lording over sewing aunties to provide masks and aid where more formalized institutions failed. Wong shares her deeply personal reflections on the existential crisis she was thrown into as a theatre artist when theatre ceased to exist, which is brilliantly cut together with the pandemic milestones we all, unfortunately, lived through. Both the low-lows and the occasional highs made me laugh out loud at how much trauma we have collectively experienced and I cheered along with the rest of the audience at the moments of perseverance and bravery Wong recollects. A reminder that a well crafted play is at once highly personal and deeply universal.
With the energy of a performer who once feared they would never be on stage again, and with the mastery of a storytelling professional, we are in good hands with Wong and the direction of Chaw Yew.
There are several clever costuming moments courtesy of Linda Cho, and Junghyun Georgia Lee’s set provides the perfect playground for Wong. Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting design does a great job of assisting in the tonal shifts of the show, which could otherwise be a little jarring, and Mikhail Fiksel’s sound design enhances Wong’s overlord powers in a believable and comedic way. Projection design by Caite Hevner delivers the real heart-beat of the show, showcasing the sentimental moments of the Auntie Sewing Squad, as well as the already-historic imagery of pandemic photo-journalism. Shout out to the NYTW crew as well who nail some comedic assists and remind us it takes a village, or in this case a squad, to pull off a one-woman show.
Overall Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord, is a reminder of what we, the vaccinated audience in New York, may have the privilege to forget once and a while – that this pandemic is not over. So don’t miss your chance to celebrate the return of live theatre. Treat yourself, and whoever helped get you through 2020, to a night out with Kristina Wong. You’ve earned it.
Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord is playing at the New York Theatre Workshop until November 21, 2021. Run time is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and more information, visit https://www.nytw.org/show/kristina-wong-sweatshop-overlord/
Laura Lee is a sometimes-actor, sometimes-writer, all-the-time-mixed-race-Asian-