Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Back Again

| Online Exclusive: May 4, 2009

Los Angeles-based performer Kristina Wong is challenging and redefining both Asian American art and performance art. Praised by the likes of The Associated Press , San Francisco Bay Guardian , NY Arts Magazine , and Bitch , her show Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest tackles the problem of the disturbingly high suicide rates and depression among Asian American women. “Cuckoo’s Nest” also bravely digs into the difficulty of representing such a broad, complicated topic on stage. The result is a multi-layered examination of a complex societal problem, meta-theatrical exploration of the loaded task of addressing the issue through art.

Wong describes herself as “an equal opportunity satirist poking fun at everyone, even herself.” Blending trademark biting wit with moments of disarming vulnerability, she holds a mirror to both self and audience. In doing so, she exposes the charred underbelly of issues such as race, identity, and mental health with refreshing candor and yes, humor.   

I sat down with Wong while she was in Minneapolis to perform Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest through Pangea World Theater to talk about how the show evolved and how that process affected her as an artist.

What prompted you to write Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?

The last show I was touring was called Free ?, a kind of a mish-mash yard sale of different identity-type things, and I was trying to think about what the next show would be. I was [a visiting artist] at Wellesley College, which is an all-women’s college, and it’s super-utopic.  It’s all women, gorgeous campus. No one locks up their bicycles. I stayed in the feminist co-op, a place with all these women who’d traveled around the world, and they were all so well read, and I thought, “Wow, this place is so perfect.  How could anything wrong possibly happen in this place?”

I was walking around the lake with a student host, and we started to talk about the topic of depression and students who’d attempted suicide. I just remember thinking, “That’s the hitch of the new show." I looked at the statistic and read some articles that said Asian women had the highest rates of depression and suicide. And, I don’t remember when [historian and journalist] Iris Chang tried to kill herself, but I think all these kinds of things were happening at once. There was this whole dynamic of how something so awful could be happening to people who were seemingly perfect. I was thinking, “How could people be so miserable in such a perfect environment?”