Orange Chicken, by Send Noods Productions (“a pan-Asian collective of theatre & musical artists who don’t know how to not name a show after food”) is a combination of live-action and animated comedy sketches now playing at the Virtual 2021 Toronto Fringe Festival. Touching on topics from social media to online school to mixed-race angst to Communist propaganda, it’s a very funny 50 minutes that feels like it was made with the new hybrid medium of “digital theatre” firmly in mind.
The team behind Send Noods’ sketches —Sumeeta Farrukh, Shreya Jha, Wilfred Moeschter, Nam Nguyen, Nightingale Nguyen, and Gabby Noga — are particularly good when it comes to putting ideas in new contexts and exaggerating them for humour. One of my favourite sketches involved a Kindergarten Court, which asks the question, “What would happen if we prosecuted childhood recess transgressions in a courtroom?” (Spoiler: It means you can invoke both cooties and Opposite Day in your defense). I hardly ever laugh out loud when I watch videos alone at my computer, but the absolute seriousness with which the premise is treated and well-timed line delivery got me.
As well, my own less-than-perfect experience with teaching online college had me ruefully chuckling with appreciation in a sketch where a harried public school music teacher tries to hype her underfunded program to parents via virtual tour.
Some sketches are fully animated, and some include animated elements mixed with live action. The animation, which incorporates the occasional visual Easter egg, looks like rotoscoping. It lends the sketches an appealing, slightly unfinished, and dreamlike quality, like the movie Waking Life or others of its ilk, the perfect vibe for a company that wants to look professional, but also laid-back.
In a song about a food courier working in outer space by Nam Nguyen that’s both catchy and cutting, animated company logos fly above the Earth as the rider never stops pedaling. Apparently, space doesn’t use any better labour practices than we do. A sketch where the deputy director of the Communist Party of China’s Central Propaganda Department proclaims his love for Taylor Swift as a Communist icon contrast the more stylized image of the minister with the barely-treated face of singer Nam Nguyen. It’s very cool.
The centrepiece of the show is the titular sketch, where a half-Asian, half-white woman (Gabby Noga) causes a stir at a thinly-disguised Toronto diner by ordering the one Asian dish that’s on the menu for show. It’s a thoughtful and hilarious look on what it’s like to be unable to fit into either of your own cultures, both exaggerated and relatable.
One consistent thread that runs through the show is a series of Facebook Marketplace ads for things nobody really wants, such as a leftover body cream that’s the last part of a bath and body gift set bought at a Winners cash register seven years ago. The social media satire is used relatively sparingly, though, and doesn’t take over the show.
Sometimes I wish the writers would have a little more confidence in their audience — the message that it’s more important for students to enjoy themselves while learning, rather than burn out working 24/7, was very clear in one sketch before the students put it into those exact words to deliver a moral.
Other times, it’s not as clear what the message is. In “Fakespeare,” Shakespeare attends an open-mic night only to get booed when vapid, self important poetry receives cheers. However, since it’s obvious that everyone else in the sketch is aware of Shakespeare’s plays as classics, the otherwise biting satire doesn’t hold up. It’s uncertain whether Shakespeare is getting booed for the work itself, or for not bringing something new and original to a poetry slam.
These are small complaints, however, and don’t matter much when almost everything lands so well. If you’re looking for some laughs and stylized animation from a talented young company, this is well worth your time. Stay for the jokes in the credits; just watch where you order the orange chicken.
- Orange Chicken is playing on-demand at the Virtual 2021 Toronto Fringe Festival.
- Purchase a $5 Membership to access the On-Demand programming on the Fringe website, then Pay What You Can to each show as you go, with the suggested price of $13 per show.
- Memberships can be purchased here. View the virtual on-demand show listings here.
- Accessibility notes:
- On-Demand shows: videos are closed captioned, transcripts are available for all audio content, documents are screen-reader friendly, and all digital images are provided with alternative text descriptions. These access supplements have been generated by the company and reviewed by the Festival. They may vary slightly from company to company.
- Fringe Primetime presentations will feature Auto-Transcribed Captioning.
- Content warning: This show is not recommended for persons under 14 years of age, and features mature language and abrupt cues.
- Read all of Mooney on Theatre’s 2021 Virtual Toronto Fringe Festival coverage here.
Poster of Orange Chicken cast provided by the company.