The wonderfully-titled The Wong Kids in the Secret of the Space Chupacabra GO! is an exuberant and wild ride, a space odyssey with lots of laughs, with talking rocks and singing dragons – and an important if slightly belabored life lesson that it’s okay to be different and stand up for what you believe.
This musical play co-produced by Ma-Yi Theater Company and Children’s Theatre Co. of Minneapolis, where the play premiered last summer, has overtones of anime and manga, not to mention pantomime. It also refreshingly puts two Asian kids front and center in the action. The eponymous Wongs, Bruce and Violet, played with boundless energy by Alton Alburo and Sasha Diamond, wish they weren’t so unpopular and nerdy. But when they learn they have telepathic powers and can move rocks, they are suddenly catapulted out of humdrum suburbia on a breakneck quest to save the world from the Space Chupacabra and become superheroes.
A better informed eleven year-old member of the audience told this reviewer that a chupacabra is not unlike Big Foot, a legendary monster that inhabits the Americas and is known for sucking the blood of animals. The Space Chupacabra has a far more capacious appetite and is going to swallow Earth if the Wong kids don’t get their act together.
Enter Curran Connor as Captain Mars, a has-been superhero dressed in a bathrobe, Mona Lisa socks and a pair of Crocs. Connor is an astonishingly versatile performer. He is a dab hand at accents and speed talking, revving up the humor and the adult appeal of the show without quite stealing it from his co-stars. He reappears in a superb monster costume as the kid eating Bandersnatch. His exuberance is equally matched by Matthew Gunn Park as the Great Prognosticator –reminiscent of blind Maser Po in the old Kung Fu TV series. But Connor does finally steal the show with his rendition of the singing dragon Qweeguin, who serenades the audience with the help of a large dragon puppet.
The costumes designed by Becky Bordutha and the puppets by David Valentine are real highlights of the piece, while the set by Meredith Ries makes good use of the surprisingly cavernous space at La Mama. A puppet show is inventively used to train the Wongs in the best way to use their superhero powers, and the enormous talking rock puppets, like giant disembodied Elmos, are hilarious.
The piece has a worthy and well-meaning message for the younger set that everyone can be a someone but spends a little too long on delivering it. A scene in which Violet meets her alter ego played with mirror-like accuracy by Kate Marley, is a wonderful piece of stage existential angst but it was relief when the show got back to the madcap adventure.
The final scene when the kids meet their potential nemesis, the Imperious Canute, portrayed with manic humor by Ethan Hova, is a fitting culmination to the intergalactic escapade. This is an inventive show that takes a swipe at stereotypes with aplomb but the real pleasures come in the form of the brilliant and truly hilarious performances bolstered by an inventive script and a large dose of stage magic.