What the heck is a chupacabra? Even if you think you know, you're in for the unexpected at The Wong Kids in the Secret of the Space Chupacabra Go!, produced by La MaMa in association with Ma-Yi Theater Company and directed by Ralph B. Peña, with Jack Tamburri. The title is just as weird as the show, but it doesn't even come close to giving you an idea of how much fun is in store.
The Wong Kids is geared toward tweens and high-schoolers, with all their pubescent angst and insecurity, and our heroes, Bruce and Violet Wong, have plenty of both. Bruce (Alton Alburo), an easily bullied nerd, and his sister, Violet (Sasha Diamond), a frustrated nobody with body-image issues, are tremendously bored with their lives until they discover they have the "lame" power to move rocks with their minds. A chance flyover by the Space Chupacabra, destroyer of worlds, brings out the Wongs' hilarious alien neighbors, Mars (Curran Connor) and Stinson (Matthew Gunn Park), who fled from their native planet and now wait while their leader tries to conquer the galactic menace. Mars and Stinson tell the wannabe superhero teens that the Space Chupacabra is bent on destroying the entire universe and that Bruce and Violet are the only ones who can save it.
Channeling The Dude from The Big Lebowski and Zapp Brannigan, Mars teaches the Wongs how to breathe in space ("without a helmet") and transport themselves to other planets via the power of imagination. And so the siblings' mission to save the universe begins. The Wong Kids encounter all sorts of madcap beings and creatures, including the Great Prognosticator (Park), the bullying Bandersnatch (Connor), the sidesplittingly funny dragon Qweeguin (Connor again), the Imperious Canute (Ethan Hova), and even the embodiment of Violet's insecure self, Nobody (Kate Marley). Their journey takes them across the universe, where they must first overcome their self-doubts and learn to work together in order to confront the self-loathing and destructive Space Chupacabra.
Lloyd Suh's script sparkles with humor and wit, and all the actors execute it with impressive skill. Along with the plot's shenanigans (including zany puppetry, lively dancing, and all manner of campy tomfoolery and melodrama), there's a solid message of celebrating differences and of liking yourself for the talents you do have, even if they seem "lame" to others. The story could have used some trimming: Violet's rather lengthy scene with Nobody is a speed bump in the action, and the Wong Kids' final challenge might have benefited from fewer choke holds. But even with its 90-minute run time, The Wong Kids will keep the attention of everyone, young people as well as adults. Paul Whitaker's frenetic yet effective lighting and Shane Rettig's thunderous sound design make it nearly impossible to let your attention drift.
While all the performances are noteworthy (Alburo and Diamond are stellar in the lead roles), Curran Conner steals the stage as Mars, Bandersnatch, and Qweeguin. His hilarious voices and nuanced performances keep the audience in stitches. He even belts out a catchy little number mid-show after making a foray into the theater's bleachers for some lighthearted interaction with unsuspecting audience members. Kids were delighted, and there was nary an adult face to be seen that wasn't smiling.
Young fans of The Big Bang Theory and other quirky comedies will find this sci-fi fest endlessly entertaining, but geeks of all ages will get a kick out of it. The real secret of The Wong Kids? It's likely one of the best shows currently running in New York for young theatergoers. But that shouldn't be a secret much longer.