REVIEW: “The Wong Kids,” an inventive space adventure premiering at Children’s Theatre, is one of the most low-tech yet elegantly creative pieces on a Twin Cities stage at the moment.
Stars and disco-ball planets float around a universe lit by black light in the first scene of Lloyd Suh’s sci-fi adventure story “The Wong Kids in the Secret of the Space Chupacabra Go!” Then, suddenly, one of the bigger orbs grows demon-red eyes and starts to eat its neighbors, Pac-Man style.
That simple supernova of a scene sets the tone for one of the most low-tech yet elegantly creative pieces on a Twin Cities stage at the moment. “Wong Kids” is premiering at Children’s Theatre under the inventive direction of Ralph Peña, head of the Ma-Yi Theater Company of New York, where it will go next.
The 90-minute one-act opened last weekend as “Miss Saigon,” a show that drew protesters concerned about stereotypical images of Asians, closed at Ordway Center. Suh’s clever piece broadens the repertory of roles available to Asian-American actors, but that’s only one reason to recommend it. “Wong Kids” is a well-constructed comedy in the style of Mel Brooks (think “Spaceballs”) or Monty Python. It offers layered treats.
The title characters themselves are a maladjusted eighth-grader, Violet (Sasha Diamond), and her geeky younger brother, Bruce (Alton Alburo). They are in the throes of adolescence when one day Bruce discovers he shares an ability with Violet: they can make rocks levitate.
Although their powers are not all that super — they would prefer to make themselves invisible or shoot lasers from their fingertips — Bruce and Violet have to make do. The siblings have been tasked with defeating the Chupacabra, a figure that wants to destroy the universe.
“Wong Kids” has striking design, including temporarily blinding lights (courtesy of Paul Whitaker), monstrous voices (the sound was designed by Shane Rettig) and scenic elements (Meredith Ries) that literally set the stage for a cosmic journey.
The play also has commendable performances by Diamond and Alburo, who gamely take us on their journey from oddball kids to superheroes. Their characters are relatively straightforward compared with those played by Curran Connor and Matthew Gunn Park. Connor depicts both the witty dragon Qweeguin and the hungry Bandersnatch with thrilling gusto, wading into the audience for bits of improvised humor. Park is a smarmy riot in roles that include the Great Prognosticator, whom the Wong kids visit to learn their future.
The many messages in “Wong Kids” include ones about diversity. Both the heroes and the villain are outsiders who have been alienated because of their peculiarity. In fact, the villain wants to reduce the universe to dust so that everything and everyone will be the same.
We can be thankful for their differences. These “Wong Kids” have got the right stuff.
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