Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
nytheatre.com review by James Comptois
June 15, 2007
Through monologues, audio-visual aids, forced sing-a-longs, handouts, and throwing balls of yarn at the audience, Kristina Wong asks in her one-woman-show why so many Asian American women battle with mental illness, depression, and thoughts of suicide. She also asks, more importantly, how she can save them.
It's pretty funny.
You probably wouldn't think it would be. When I first heard that Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was going to be a one-woman show about the high percentage of mental illness among Asian American women, "funny" is not the word that came to mind. But it is. Very much so.
Early in the show, Wong explains that many Asian American performers like putting on shows about stereotypes ("Which is good," she explains dryly, "Because there aren't enough of those.") or about coming to terms with their Asian heritage. So, she's going to carve out a unique niche for herself ("Yes, I know. I'm brave."). This is why she says to someone in the front row: "Stay off my topic. Seriously. Stay off my topic. And more importantly, stay away from my grants."
So, does Wong succeed in getting to the bottom of why so many Asian American women are suicidal? It's difficult to say.
First of all, she doesn't offer any hard evidence that Asian American women are more suicidal than any other ethnic or gender group (or any comparable statistics, for that matter). Is the suicide rate among Asian American women substantially higher than, say, Caucasian men? If so, why? This show doesn't come close to answering that. Also, I didn't get a clear sense as to why she was using this topic, aside from carving out a performance niche for herself.
However, perhaps all that's beside the point. Wong says she believes Asian American women are facing a crisis, and she can't for the life of her figure out how to help. She also points out a mildly depressing yet true point that, even if she can prevent these women from killing themselves, they're all going to die, anyway. After all, isn't preventing someone from committing suicide ultimately postponing the inevitable?
There is one standout section of the show when Wong enacts a story of a depressed woman without health insurance attempting to get a referral for free psychiatric help and getting stuck through a maze of bureaucratic red tape, having to call up the help line and tell her awful story of her painful past over and over again to different people who can't help her. Finally, when she gets put through to the right person who has the power to refer her to some free help, she feels she's being made to audition and sell her sob story to prove Just How Crazy she is.
So, she gives the audience copies of her headshot and resume, with such credits as: "ROLE: Victim—Raped by Chickens." I laughed a lot reading that she was "SAG/AFTRA (ADD Eligible)."
Kristina Wong is a very engaging and dynamic—if not intimidating—performer, completely defying the audience's expectations and using discomfort to evoke laughter. Although the show has trouble keeping its threads together (no pun intended), this type of biting humor is very much up my alley.