Thoughts on the one-man/one-woman show genre — and my take on Michelle Krusiec's MADE IN TAIWAN and Natalie Kim's YO GIRL!
I have to admit — I'm not a fan of the one-man/woman show genre; they tend to feel self-indulgent and solipsistic, and I guess that's part of their charm to connoisseurs.
But I'll make a set of exceptions to this rule: If a performer has the level of confidence and self-awareness required to command the stage without turning it into a pathos-drenched therapy couch; a story that would simply be worth telling in any form, from literary nonfiction to cocktail conversation; and the talent to inhabit multiple personas seamlessly and persuasively — well, what you end up watching isn't a one-person show, but a kind of magic trick.
What I'm saying is that I know it's a high standard, but for me, I'm not interested in seeing a show of this type that doesn't make me saying "Wow!" on the way out.
Fortunately, the 1M/1W shows I've seen have mostly fit that category. As a member of the dot-com walking wounded, I greatly enjoyed Mike Daisey's 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com.
I was blown away by Yisrael Campbell's Circumcise Me, about his multistage conversion from atheist goy to observant Jew and finally to full Orthodoxy. (But I also admit to being something of a Judeophile, fascinated in the religion, its cultural traditions and its long and deep history.)
But I generally found the late Spaulding Gray's stuff to be insufferable, have never been a fan of Eric Bogosian, and even feel John Leguizamo's shtick is hit and miss at best.
That said, I was riveted by my friend Natalie Kim's 1WS, which I saw in an early incarnation, running back to back with a fellow actress's monologue under the joint bill Yo Hot Mamas!. Her deftly performed narrative explored her identity as a Korean adoptee, and how that identity was shaped by her relationships with her three moms — her adoptive mom, her stepmom (after her parents divorced and remarried), and her birth mom — and it was hilarious, gripping and heartfelt.
It was also the first half of a bill without intermissions, which meant I had no choice but to sit through her colleague's piece about female sexuality at midlife — which I found stultifying in all of the worst ways one-person theater can be stultifying. On the one hand, the companion piece made Natalie's piece shine even brighter by contrast. On the other, it was a deadweight way to end the evening, and I desperately considered trying to escape during the second monologue — even though bolting would have meant physically crossing the actual performance space. Thankfully, Natalie has retooled and expanded her piece, renaming it Yo Girl! and ditching the anchor of her former stage partner. Her show just returned from a celebrated run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and with any luck the new remix will get a fresh production here Stateside sometime soon — it deserves to be seen, a lot.
In fact, if she does feel the need to do her show in repertory, there'd be no better fit than to hook up with Michelle Krusiec, whose 1WS Made in Taiwan I saw last night at the Lucille Lortel Theater in the West Village. Michelle, also an adoptee, similarly tasks herself with exploring the mom-daughter nexus, though she has somewhat fewer moms than Natalie. Just one, in fact — but the mom in question is as vivid a character as I've seen embodied on stage in recent memory.
Krusiec's chameleonic slippage between her own persona and that of her adoptive mother, not to mention her much-abused Polish adoptive father and her mother's gargoylesque friends, is a jaw-dropping act of transformation; the show does have its overwrought moments, but they don't dominate what is otherwise an emotionally balanced, brilliantly written and wonderfully performed 85 minutes of theater. My only quibble: The title of the play is almost a non-sequitur: The show addresses Krusiec's birth (and abandonment, and adoption) in Taiwan in its first few minutes, then never mentions it again. The rest of the 80 minutes of the play take place in and around Krusiec's suburban hometown in Virginia, and focus on the exquisite disaster of her relationship with her mom — a story that's in turns touching, tragic, hilarious and horrific. One wonders why Krusiec didn't give her work a name that better reflects its core themes and tensions; this is a show that anyone who's been a mother or a daughter, or had a mother or daughter, should see, whether you're Taiwanese or not.
Made in Taiwan has three days worth of encore performances left; buy tickets here, though they're likely to go fast. And as for Yo Girl!, well, watch this space.