Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord @ Kirk Douglas Theatre

Almost three years after COVID effectively shut down society, things are starting to seem like a return to normal, including returning to the theatre. However, I should warn you if your first show back is Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord, at the Kirk Douglas theatre through March 12th, you may think you have never left.

Wong’s one-woman show is about how she survived lockdown as the head of the “Auntie Sewing Squad,” a group of mostly Asian-American women who spent the first 504 days of lockdown sewing homemade face masks for communities in need. Wong is a supremely gifted recounter, spinning comedic gems out of going from unemployed actor to the titular overlord of a sewing collective that must source materials (starting with bedsheets and bra straps), fresh recruits (including her mother and at one point a “summer camp” for kids over Zoom) to keep up with demand, while also dealing with the societal upheavals that occurred. Wong starts the show with a trigger warning about the material – mentions of trauma, illness, mental health stressors, racism, and death – and these do abound in ways that toward the end of the show could start to feel overwhelming. But through her manic comedic style, Wong is able to bring the show to a highly cathartic ending, in which highlighting the human connections that had been forged through all the trauma and sewing brings about a hopeful and heartening feeling that lingers long after the metaphorical curtain goes down.

Director Chay Yew masterfully leads Wong through her paces, never letting the action fade or Wong’s energy overwhelm. Production design superbly completes the show – Junghyun Georgia Lee’s oversized, candy-colored sewing room (complete with Wong’s actual Hello Kitty sewing machine) fits perfectly on the Kirk Douglas black box stage. Linda Cho’s costume design turns Wong into the “Rambo” of sewing. And the trifecta of Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting design, Mikhail Fiskel and Adam Slaberg’s sound design, and Catie Hevner’s projection design highlight both the action and the story perfectly.

Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord is the pandemic one-woman show you never knew you were missing but, oh, so dearly needed.

Brenna Guthrie

Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overload, a coproduction of Center Theatre Group and East West Players, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre through March 12.

The Actors' Gang