The Stranger: Sara Porkalob's The Dragon Lady Is Worth Your Time, But the DNC Conspiracy Theory Layercake Is the Best Theater Happening Right Now

Publication date: 
July 25, 2016
Rich Smith

On Thursday I saw Sara Porkalob's re-worked and fully formed version of her solo show, The Dragon Lady. It was hilarious in several places and full of moving scenes about immigration and life and it's too long but not too long in a way that means you shouldn't see it. I'll explain why a little later, but of all this hot potato political theater about Russian conspiracies and Jewish media conspiracies is taking up all the air in the Slogroom of my brain right now.

*takes a huge bong rip*

But maybe it's all connected?

So let me see if I can get this straight. On Friday, Wikileaks drops 20,000 e-mails, which, among many other items, including but not limited to a document called, I swear to god, "Big Spreadsheet of All Things," which lists the names/e-mail addresses/phone numbers of people who have given money to the DNC since 2013, show documents that reveal efforts to discredit Bernie Sanders among southern voters by questioning his commitment to *blows out huge cloud of smoke* Judaism. The lines on this have been I TOLD YOU I TOLD YOU I TOLD YOU from the Bernie bro arena, "I told you" from Sanders himself, and something like, "Oh weird—establishment Dems within the party didn't take kindly to that socialist who kept claiming he was leading 'the peoples' revolution.' Huh. Weird."

Anyway, *cleans out bowl and loads another* Debby Wasserman Schultz resignsfrom her post as chair of the Democratic National Committee, and that day—that day—Hillary, *packs a tight bowl,* Hillary sends out a statement saying that she has hired Schultz to work for the campaign, which signals that Clinton reallllly doesn't give a fuck about Sanders supporters. And why would she. To drum up support from the youths? Good luck. At this point, Sanders supporters are booing Sanders.

Okay so also on Sunday Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook claimed that Russian hackers broke into the DNC's computer servers and stole the e-mails in order to help Trump.

When Amy Goodman asked Julian Assange if there was any truth to this Kremlin-Trump conspiracy this morning on Democracy Now, Julian Assange demurred, saying that Wikileaks never reveals their sources, and then he casually suggested that there were a number of people who work for the DNC who, you know, might be willing to slide 20,000 e-mails down Wikileaks Way: "But if we’re talking about the DNC," he said, "There’s lots of consultants that have access, lots of programmers."

But okay okay okay so listen to this, *lowers volume on "superchill" Spotify playlist* on Saturday, a day after the e-mail release, Wikileaks published this anti-semitic Tweet that reads, in part: "Most of our critics have 3 (((brackets around their names))) & have black-rim glasses." In that article for Slate, Jeremey Stahl links to a piece in The Guardian about Assange reportedly claiming that there's a "Jewish conspiracy" against him, which Assange denies.

So there's maybe a Kremlin-backed, Wikileaks-facilitated conspiracy to get Trump elected and accusations of a Jewish media conspiracy rallying to critique Wikileaks?

How can I write about theater-theater when THIS political theater is so wild and high-stakes? I mean, Hillary's campaign is suggesting that Putin is Trump's puppet master.

Conversely, is the foil-hatted and strange nature of these campaigns even more of a reason to tease out the nuances and complexities of a local theater performance, especially considering that the show in question features a single performer whose interior world swirls with well over a dozen distinct characters whose ages span across three different generations and who are all fighting to survive in hostile environments, which is maybe how many of us are feeling right now?

*takes another huge bong hit, passes out, and wakes up with a start*

I think maybe yeah, yes it is.

Sara Porkalob has muscled The Dragon Lady into a two hour solo show. The Porkalob family is gathered to celebrate Grandma Maria's birthday, but she is reluctant to join the festivities. Various siblings—all played by Porkalob—tell hilarious but also sad stories of growing up under Grandma Maria's reign. One of the grandchildren finds grandma hiding out in the basement and singing karaoke. As the grandchild tries to coax Maria back to the group, Maria divulges the long, dark, and romantic tale of her involvement with a Filipino gang.

The only thing to look at onstage is an empty chair, some lights, and Porkalob wearing black and white clothing. There's no scenery. Nothing. It's all Porkalob all the time.

This choice does a couple things. 1) The minimalist scenic design triggers your imagination to project its own scenery onto the stage, which is probably better-looking than a solo theater artist (and many whole theater companies) can afford. 2) Your mind is trained on all of Porkalob's tiniest gestures, which helps you distinguish characters from each other and also reveals the skill-level Porkalob brings to the performance, which is considerably high. Porkalob's bone-deep understanding of the different narrative strategies that people of different ages use when they tell stories is particularly impressive.

If you space out for a second, though, then you might find it difficult to figure out who is talking to whom and when, which is complicated by the fact that there are at least two characters who share the same name, and I think certain characters have nicknames.

This slippage both in terms of character and of time is, of course, intentional. Like many multi-generational stories (Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitudejumps to mind, though I blush), the whole point of the piece is that we inherit the traumas but also the strength to overcome those traumas from our forebears, and that we in some ways are our forebears, only slightly different.

The best and most-polished stories emerge in the first act, when the siblings are telling stories of Grandma Maria's apparent negligence. In a depressing example, Maria hasn't come home for days, and the children worry that she's gone for good. In response, Junior, who is in high school, goes door-to-door dressed up like a Boy Scout and asks for food donations so that the family can eat for the month. The funniest scene in the play occurs when Maria's daughter returns home after being bullied by a neighbor girl. Maria hands her daughter a golf club and commands her to go kill the neighbor girl or face death herself.

These stories evidence the ways that Maria's mothering tactics build strength in sympathetic and unsympathetic ways, they show the good in the bad and the bad and the good, and each story, individually, is entertaining.

But the second half of the show drags—it's looser than the first half and seems more convoluted. But the parts that shine in the second half are all about Grandma Maria being a badass gangster. So you WANT to know all about what happens in the second half, it just takes a while until you're told.


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