In a bleak world, where things do not seem to make sense, we are constantly looking for logic or reason that will explain the things that we cannot comprehend. This search always puts us on a journey in which we have to delve into an abyss of despair to come out enlightened, and somehow put the dots together of something that may not even fit with itself. Sounds awfully serious, doesn’t it? And it’s not like an existential play about our place and value in the world is something that has never been tackled. In a way, it’s the bread and butter of the theater world. Yet, Wakka Wakka’s production “Made In China” does what creative innovators do — it finds a way to get a tired formula and give it a jolt of originality.
The story is simple: a middle-aged woman lives alone in the suburbs, somewhere in America, and has reached a point in her life where the only companion she has is her dog. Her neighbor, a middle-aged Chinese man, likes to keep to himself and gets along with most people when he has to. She doesn’t like him, as she doesn’t know what to think of him. He doesn’t like her, because she never gave him a chance. They are both victims of a life created to protect themselves, but it has left them lonely, and ultimately, a pariah of their families. Their ideas to get their kin back do not resonate with the others, and leaves them spending the holidays alone. Without going too much more into the plot, let’s just say that as one of the characters goes into a shopping spree to buy the love of their family members, a magical letter comes into their possession. It is this piece of commercial Americana that ends up transporting them to China, where they must confront both their lives and reach an understanding of who they want to be. Have I mentioned these characters are all puppets?!
The Wakka Wakka ensemble has truly put together something special. While at first there was apprehension about the whole thing, doubts were quickly dissuaded by their combination of real-life situations and cleverness that drives the first musical number. It was odd, because it felt real. It felt real, because their work allows us to suspend disbelief and get sucked in. Using Chinese history and mythology, we are invited to a trip into our own self consciousness and a call to bravery no matter the age.
The musical numbers are delightful, each one an improvement from the last. By the time the production ends, we have both laughed out loud and invested emotions as hard as the laughs for them. It’s a testament to the team that we can get lost in these puppets and find ourselves. The technical aspects of this show, from the panda rapping to the dragon (yes, there is a dragon) were all top notch. This is a work of love, and it is one that has a powerful punch between the smiles.
Wakka Wakka’s “Made In China” is one of those shows I couldn’t recommend enough. It is puppets, it is a comedy, it is absurdist, and it asks a lot from the audience. But it rewards you with an experience you will not find easy anywhere else, and for that we should celebrate.
*All images by Heidi Bohnenkamp
Out of 4 stars:
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