China - The Whole Enchilada
nytheatre.com review by Mitchell Conway
August 12, 2008
I love it when comedy reveals the truth. Many times China - The Whole Enchilada, by Mark Brown, is able to make a powerful social/political statement without losing its grin. Moments such as these make the play worth seeing and allow forgiveness for some predictable puns and major cliches. There is also some very well-accomplished slapstick that should not be ignored, and I never thought I could actually enjoy prerecorded orchestration. Brad DePlanche, Eric Hissom, and Philip Nolen, our three comic Caucasian tour guides through Chinese history in this show, have a ceaseless sense of play as they move from the Ming Dynasty to Mao.
With sped-up examples of history repeating itself, the production makes salient observations. For instance, a scene between a U.S. Customs official and a Chinese immigrant, chronicling the changes in U.S. policy towards Chinese immigrants, illuminates our country's racism, hypocrisy, and selfishness. A scene between British ambassadors and Chinese government officials reveals Britain's under-the-radar opium trafficking.
Some musical numbers really hit the mark, such as "Lotus Shoes," telling the story of a young girl (played by DePlanche) learning about the foot binding that will cripple her for the rest of her life. The audience is given an intensely disturbing and detailed description of what happens to a young girl's foot when it is bound. The brilliance of this song is how "she" could sing about something so horrible, yet still fit it into the world of the show.
Following the song, DePlanche moves into a dramatic monologue about female oppression in China, discussing the absurd amount of female abortions as a result of the one child policy. This is one of a few moments where the production addresses serious issues seriously, but then intelligently brings the show back into its fun atmosphere with the other actors commenting on how the moment does not fit into the show, followed by a goofy Benny Hill-style transition. Considerate moments such as these help to create a balanced show which moves forward without glazing over the difficult historical realities of China.
Although hackneyed references to Star Wars and some bad jokes which go on for way too long are bumps along the great silk road of this play, overall it is a funny and informative ride.