Review: 'Kristina Wong for Public Office' has my vote on the Kirk Douglas virtual stage

Charles McNulty
Kristina Wong in "Kristina Wong for Public Office" captured at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in October 2020.
Kristina Wong in "Kristina Wong for Public Office" at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. (Center Theatre Group)

No one has to explain to Kristina Wong the theatrical nature of American politics. A performance artist and comedy warrior for social justice, she started campaigning for public office as part of her act before running in earnest and now serves as an elected representative for the Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council.

It’s a volunteer position that before the pandemic met monthly at the Pio Pico-Koreatown Branch Library. Wong is aware that this isn’t the big time. As political stages go, she’s playing the outer fringe. But she has gained entry to an illustrious venue — the Kirk Douglas Theatre — to share her unusual electoral journey in the streaming solo show “Kristina Wong for Public Office.”

Dressed in a suffragist white suit à la Hillary Clinton, Wong bounces around the Douglas with the giddy joy of a person who has found an open back window after locking herself out of her home while taking out the garbage. The stage is bedecked in American flags in an overdone manner suitable for a Mike Pence keynote at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

A lectern awaits Wong, but why not make an entrance worthy of Elvis? Draped in a Vegas-style cape and singing a personalized version of “Hound Dog,” she vamps her way to the stage as though powered by the roar of a packed house.

Her energy is miraculous. It’s not easy to crack jokes in capacious silence. Cutups need encouragement, but unlike Donald Trump she’s not about to subject her fans to a dangerous pathogen. Wong makes a public health point about hanging up her cape herself before switching into rally mode:

Friends! I could have brought tonight’s rally to Madison Square Garden, the Phoenix Convention Center, the ballroom at the Radisson hotel in Anaheim. But I said, "No, thanks. Give me an audience willing to crawl out from bed and sit upright at their computers, watch theater online during a global pandemic, for they are the most die-hard ones!" Am I right, America?

“Kristina Wong for Public Office,” written by Wong and directed by Diana Wyenn, is a good-natured reminder that all politics is local. This digital production, produced by Center Theatre Group in partnership with the Broad Stage, champions inclusion through ironic commentary that captures our national muddles in the squabbles of a neighborhood bureaucracy.

The line between politics and comedy has blurred. “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” ensnared Rudolph W. Giuliani in its satiric web, Bill Maher’s monologues provoke the president into Twitter tirades, Randy Rainbow has founded a resistant movement of musical parodies, and Sarah Cooper and J-L Cauvin have infused the art of impersonation with new media vitality in their hilarious mockeries of Trump.

Wong is a bit more earnest, but she brings fresh perspective as a Chinese American rooted in the dizzying diversity of Koreatown. She prefaces her show with an acknowledgment of native lands and tests out some phrases she’s picked up while canvassing in her multicultural community.

All the while the glass ceiling that “is still fully intact” after the 2016 election threatens to give her a concussion. Being "likable," she riffs with delightful amiability, may not be her strong suit. But why is it that only women have to worry about this “mysterious, un-embodiable thing” when men can get away with, well, just being creepy men?

Wong relates her experience of being a target of Alex Jones, the notorious conspiracy theorist and far-right extremist, who discovered her web series for children called “Radical Cram School,” in which she delivers "tongue-in-cheek" lessons to youngsters on revolution and social justice. The volcanic hate that spewed her way prompted her (with help from a marijuana edible and politically active reality TV producer friend) to run for electoral office.

The show turns more serious after Wong joins the neighborhood council and wants to address the rise in homelessness and the federal government’s escalating war on immigrants here illegally. But humor keeps this political novice’s senses sharp and her values straight. She doesn't understand why fake snow for a police department’s community Christmas program should take precedence over toothbrushes for those living on the streets.

The story arc of “Kristina Wong for Public Office” isn’t particularly well developed, but the storyteller is marvelous company. You’ll feel saner after spending 75 minutes with her. And seeing her perform on the Kirk Douglas stage will whet your appetite for the local theater we've been missing.

Let’s hope this is the start of a robust series of digital productions from Center Theatre Group. The Culver City venue was a sight for sore eyes. I hate to sound greedy, but could we have a glimpse of the Mark Taper Forum soon?

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.