by Jim Gladstone
After a year of sporadic workshops, The Wong Street Journal—a solo work by the enormously talented agitprop performer Kristina Wong—had its official world premiere in a fleeting five day run last week at San Francisco’s eclectic Z Space. The show—extremely entertaining and well worth seeing as it tours nationally—still feels like a work in progress.
Zipping about her hand-sewn set—a felt rendering of the New York Stock Exchange—Wong, perhaps most widely recognized from her television panel appearances with W. Kamau Bell and Larry Wilmore, offers laugh-out-loud cultural insights about a wide range of complex topics. Among them: White privilege, social media, Americans’ charitable support of poor countries, the global impact of hip hop, and the common goal of artists and activists to have a lasting impact on the world around them. There are hordes of heady ideas buzzing around in Wong’s script, but they never quite fly in formation.
In a recent interview, Wong mentioned that she’s been trying to broaden her audience by billing herself as a comedian rather than a performance artist. In light of The Wong Street Journal, that seems like a smart move for another reason: Almost every anecdote and apercu in Journal could be effectively presented as a segment of a stand-up act, with their loose, poetic relationships making for witty segues and a cumulative power.
But in presenting Journal as a one-woman play, Wong strains too hard to connect the dots with a dramatic/thematic throughline. The beads are stronger than the string. The stock market set design doesn’t cohere with Wong’s amazing true stories about recording a rap album in Uganda. Her brilliantly funny riff on the self-centeredness of social media doesn’t dovetail with Wong’s vivid impersonations of other people.
Yes, the string could be strengthened; but yanking it altogether and allowing audience members to roll the beads around in their minds might be the more effective alteration of Journal as it stands today.
Learn about upcoming performances of The Wong Street Journal and Kristina Wong’s other works at www.kristinawong.com.
Jim Gladstone is a San Francisco-based creative consultant and writer. A book columnist and Contributing Editor at PASSPORT, he is the author of an award-winning novel, The Big Book of Misunderstanding.