Nirmala Nataraj, Special to The Chronicle
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Performance artist Kristina Wong trades in the kind of deft metatheatrical dark comedy that makes her new show, "Cat Lady," immediately watchable.
Wong is accustomed to creating absurdist one-woman shows that pack a punch, whether she's exploring depression and suicide among Asian American women or commenting on the complications and contradictions of going green. "Cat Lady" marks a departure from earlier material, as it is her first ensemble piece.
"There's a control freak in me, so it was difficult at times ... but it was exciting to see the scenes I wasn't in and go, 'Wow, I made them say that!' " Wong says.
The performance, which combines eccentric cat ladies with smarmy male pickup artists, features Wong, drag queen Miss Barbie Q, Clayton Shane Farris and Jabez Zuniga. As part of the research and preparation process, the performers became integrated in the subculture of the pickup artist (PUA, for short), that smooth-talking lothario who has mastered the art of seduction tactics and whose ostensible purpose is to get women into bed.
"I was fascinated in the PUA as a mode of performance," says Wong, whose process entailed spending all day in a room with the cast doing simulations and rehearsing, and then at night unleashing the "performance" on unsuspecting people in nightclubs.
The entire endeavor required going to PUA school and doing some "drastic behavior modifications and character adjustments. In all my shows I break the fourth wall, so the pre-show has the performers picking up on audience members. ... It's a drill you run over and over again, pretty much just like acting."
Wong says she became interested in incorporating the idea of the PUA into a performance when she was touring "Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," her highly acclaimed show about depression among Asian American women. "It was a lonely and draining time," she says, adding, "I felt like while everyone around me was doing real-life things, I was perpetually inside the play."
Wong became interested in the parallels between her role as a performer and the subculture of the PUA, and says she began to notice a few parallels.
"In essence, I was doing my show every night and getting standing ovations, and then I was all alone afterwards. ... PUAs also do the same show every night at clubs, and then they have sex with these women, and are alone all over again," she says. "Both of us feign emotion onstage and perform versions of ourselves, which made me think: What is a real person? What is a genuine connection? How much of our interactions with people are scripted performances?"
The "cat lady" story line adds to the mix. In the play, Wong, who plays herself, is beset by a sudden problem: Her cat, Oliver, has begun to mark his territory by spraying all over her house and belongings. "There's a sense of the cat living in a fake world in which he gets everything he wants and chases laser pointer dots around all day. ... In some ways the only way he can express himself creatively is when he sprays and marks his territory."
Regarding the issue of how the line between performance and reality can become increasingly blurred, "Cat Lady" has enabled Wong to step outside her performer persona.
She says, "When I do a show, my entire life usually gets colored by it. ... Now I am not so much interested in mining my interior for dramatic material, but in coming to the understanding that I am not just my work."
8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m. Sun. $17-$20. ODC Theater, 3153 17th St., S.F. www.odcdance.org.
Photo by Mark Francis