If writer-director Ralph B. Peña could re-imagine This End Up (A User’s Manual for Lovers of Asians) as a soup, it would doubtless be Hot and Sour. Mounted at La Mama, the sex-obsessed and merrily acerbic cabaret by the Ma-Yi Theater Company features a quintet of characters negotiating show tunes and relationships. Both Ming and his sister Jenny becomes occidentally involved with white boy Dickie. There’s also blond Bunny explaining her thing for gay men, and ex-nun Elena, who likes waiters resembling the apostles (Saint James, so dishy).
Against Vincent Hokia’s assortment of hanging Japanese lanterns, the characters croon show tunes both familiar (“Bewitched”) and obscure (“Opposites” from Skyscraper). Occasionally, Peña changes a few lines for the sake of topicality. In the case of “March of the Siamese Children,” he pens entirely new lyrics about wooing “Asian boys, Asian girls, Asian toys.” Peña’s dictum, which doesn’t seem so culturally specific (neither, despite the title, does the play), involves first getting a life and then practicing good personal hygiene.
The rice paper-thin plot simply provides an excuse for the actors to burst into song, with Angel Desai’s Jenny demonstrating quite a way with scat and John Wernke making a cocksure turn as Dickie. Peña sometimes introduces a compelling theme: When does preference turn into fetish? Who’s cuter, Peter or Judas? But he drops it as soon as the music starts to play. Also, Bunny’s interaction with Ming seems extraneous, and Elena never interacts with the others at all.
Then again, in cabaret plot is a pleasant, if extraneous, fillip—much like duck sauce. In the penultimate scene, Dickie accuses the brother-and-sister act of “Oriental voodoo.” But as long as Ming and Jenny do do that voodoo that they do so well, why complain?