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Theater review: 'Laughing With My Mouth Wide Open' at El Centro Theatre

November 24, 2010 | 12:00 pm

Laughing Audiences should be grateful for repressive families—how else would great comics be formed? The draconian parents of Gwendoline Yeo are the launching point for her irreverent “Laughing With My Mouth Wide Open,” now at El Centro Theatre. Technically this is a solo piece, yet it’s Yeo’s Anglophile Singaporean family that ultimately steals the show.

Sharing a small raked stage with a Chinese long zither and a talking Sit N’ Spell toy, Yeo recounts her journey from chubby Asian geek to self-defined American (and “Desperate Housewives” regular) in seriocomic episodes. Her father, a scientist who clearly learned parenting skills from Alec Guinness in “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” berates her at every turn, in the hopes she’ll fall in line like perfect older sister Rosalind or mellow, country-music loving brother Nigel. But by surviving Bay Area high school cliques and Asian beauty pageants, the sharply observant Yeo eventually takes the U.S. on her own terms.

Director Mark St. Amant and his design team shape Yeo’s story with deft lighting and music cues; even so, the episodic format occasionally feels underdeveloped and scattered. A brilliant mimic, Yeo zeroes in on the core of her parents’ marriage with more acuity than some of her own experiences (like a problematic relationship with a college professor). But this buoyant actress-musician always brings the funny, and “Laughing” deserves more development and a wider audience.

--Charlotte Stoudt

“Laughing With My Mouth Wide Open,” El Centro Theatre, 804 N. El Centro Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 19. $22.50-$30.00. (800) 838-3006 or Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Photo: Gwendoline Yeo in "Laughing With My Mouth WIde Open." Credit: Zuzana Kendrova