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A CurtainUp Review
Made In China

I'm sorry I never did anything with my life. I didn't follow through with anything. I didn't make society better. I didn't get involved in the community. I didn't separate recycling from trash. Ever.—Mary
Mary (Peter Russo) with her filled to the brim shopping cart, (Heidi Bohnenkamp)
Mary is a 56-year-old divorcee and grandmother, who has no one but her faithful dog, Lily, to keep her company and give meaning to her life. Her neighbor is a Chinese man named Eddie, who is also divorced and lonely, and also has a dog, Yo Yo. The canines get along a lot better than the humans.

So far there is nothing particularly extraordinary in this scenario, until you consider that in Wakka Wakka's brilliant new show, Made in China, Mary and Eddie are puppets who go on a surreal journey to China via Mary's toilet bowl. In China, Mary and Eddie witness the inhuman conditions of factory workers and are mistakenly imprisoned for insurrection. They return sadder, wiser and ready to take action. And they have fallen in love.

Add to this Yan Li's terrific score with its upbeat melodies and witty lyrics, the modest special effects that are nevertheless worthy of your favorite film, and a bit of puppet porn. Put it all together and you have one of the most engaging shows to hit the stage this season.

Made in China is a co-production with Nordland Visual Theatre, the Norwegian chamber music group MiNEnsemblet and The HOP at Dartmouth. Written by Gwendolyn Warnock and Kirjan Waage with help from the Made in China Ensemble, the show features 30 puppets, seven puppeteers, animated video, and music inspired by both American and Chinese traditions. The score is performed by four members of MiNEnsemblet, as well as Yan Li and Max Mamon.

Warnock and Waage also direct. However, the production works so seamlessly it seems to have directed itself, or else been directed by unanimous agreement. The tremendous synergy is generated in great part by the seven dressed in black puppeteers who manipulate Mary, Eddie, their dogs; also a variety of objects, including a toilet bowl plunger, a dragon on the warpath and the sheet of paper with the written plea that alerts Mary to the plight of Chinese workers.

Although the whys and wherefores of the events in this show are not always clear, the characters are so appealing and the action moves so quickly (as adorable mini-sets are pushed on and off the stage) such considerations seem minor.

Made in China combines the global story of Chinese forced labor with an intimate story of love and fulfillment between two isolated individuals. And it does so with humor, pathos and commitment.

And one more thing. At first, you may be turned off by what looks like degrading, anti-feminism. But hang in there. What you'll see at the end is revelatory, life affirming and a demonstration of the true power of women.

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Made In China
Written by Gwendolyn Warnock and Kirjan Waage (with help from the MADE IN CHINA ensemble)
Music and lyrics by Yan Li
Directed by Gwendolyn Warnock and Kirjan Waage
Puppets by Kirjan Waage
Music performed by The MiNEnsemblet
Produced by Wakka Wakka, in a co-production with Nordland Visual Theatre, MiNEnsemblet, and The HOP at Dartmouth at 59E59 Theaters
From 1/10/17; opene 1/15/17; closing 2/19/17
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Jan 19, 2017

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