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Theater review: Made in China takes you on a wild puppet ride

Made in China
Photograph: Heidi Bohnenkamp

Wakka Wakka’s madly audacious new show, Made in China, defies labels. It is, somehow, a musical satirical romantic puppet thriller; it also has elements of ghost story, issue play, kung fu flick and porno. It begins with a shock of lumpy, saggy puppet flesh: Bitter, middle-aged Mary (Peter Russo) sits stark naked on her couch, eating macaroni and talking to her dog. After trying to cheer herself up with a manic shopping spree, she opens a box of Christmas lights and finds a handwritten plea from a Chinese worker in a forced-labor camp. Although she tries to ignore it at first, the note winds up sucking her and her reticent Chinese-American neighbor, Eddie (Ariel Estrada), into a supernatural international adventure of self-discovery.

Written and directed by Gwendolyn Warnock and Kirjan Waage, with a clever score by Yan Li, Made in China takes full advantage of the freedom that being a puppet show affords. Seven skilled performers, hidden in black clothes and veils, wrangle Waage’s full-body puppets in a variety of inventive sequences, including a zany comic number sung by Chinese-made appliances and an impressive dragon attack in a bamboo forest. The show may be a little messy—the personal plot is more sharply defined than the political one—but it’s packed with happy surprises.

59E59 Theaters (Off Broadway). By Gwendolyn Warnock and Kirjan Waage. Music and lyrics by Yan Li. Directed by Warnock and Waage. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins. Click here for full ticket and venue information.

Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam   

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