By Alex Miller
Yu Ling Wu (“How the Fuck to Vote: A Voter’s Guide”) is a force of nature. A force you don’t want to oppose. And she’s 4’6”. As the show begins, Ms. Wu distributes fortune cookies from a large metal bowl. “Who wants to read what their fortune cookie said?” She smiles coyly, then announces: “You know fortune cookies aren’t really Chinese? Yeah, shocked me too! I think they’re from San Francisco.” Uproarious laughter ensues.
A guy raises his hand: “You will have a positive effect on everything you touch.” Along with Ms. Wu, the crowd can’t help but coo “ooohhhhh,” because we’re all 12-year-olds again and can’t help going to a nasty place. It’s great fun to be included in the act like this.
We are then transported to her childhood in San Francisco. “Chairman Mao made everything possible,” her mother announces, as she makes a quick change into a long cheongsam, disappearing behind a backdrop. In the interim, the lights turn blue and a storm brews over the speakers, with a howling wind great enough to ruin any fisherman’s day. When she reemerges, unfurling a very “cult of personality” Mao poster, she salutes it, announcing: “Chairman Mao saved our nation, brought us through the storm!”
Her mother is a massive influence on her. She paints a fantasy world about their origins in a small village in the Far East. From walking 12 miles both ways to school without shoes, to becoming an OB/GYN in her town, her mother is just as colorful as Ms. Wu herself. Her status in life diminishes upon entering the US, when she has to settle for working as a janitor at the “rich school” because of the language barrier and the medical degrees that didn’t transfer over to America along with the family.
Ms. Wu’s father is an interesting, though reserved, character. He mentions that a distant ancestor of theirs helped build American railroads. At which time Ms. Wu picks up a series of framed photos and lines them up on the floor to explain her family tree. It’s humorous, but also brings home a very serious point. Immigration restrictions like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 limited livelihoods and possibilities for many, a practice with which we are still familiar.
Her comedic timing, impressions, storytelling, and improvisation skills are impeccable. Almost uncannily so. Essentially, she’s a meteor inside of a gift bag, because her presence is a present of astronomical proportions. She can control a crowd and a space like a giant would. What is jarring, however, is the excess of ideas and forms. It’s overly stimulating to listen to little Yu Ling play with Barbies in one room, while her mother mops a hallway floor, speaking Chinese and having her daughter translate the words right after she says them.
Ms. Wu received a dual degree in Integrated Design from the Parsons School of Design, and Theater with a minor in Ethnicity and Race from the Eugene Lang Liberal Arts College. With that level of commitment and tenacity, there’s no wonder why Zishan Ugurlu (Associate Professor of Theater at Eugene Lang) directed this play. She saw the talent Ms. Wu could harness, and you will see it, too. This is not your typical immigrant story. Please sit down, laugh, grab a fortune cookie, and dream American.
“American Dream, The”
Written and Performed by Yu Ling Wu
Oct. 8 at 7:30pm
Director: Zishan Ugurlu
Photo, courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
ALEX MILLER, a Chicago native, has been a professional writer and editor for 6 years. He joined the Navy in 2004, and served for four years in such places as Haiti, Iraq, and Somalia. He has a degree in Public Engagement from The New School, and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Forbes, The New York Daily News, and QZ, among others. He lives in Harlem.