A new imperative

As my knowledge of the solo performance form broadened, I began to see or hear about solo performers who were not in the anthology, including Penny Arcade, Mike Daisey, Eve Ensler, Bridget Everett, Karen Finley, Sarah Jones, and Dan Kwong.

So now I embarked on a new imperative and felt I had to get myself to performances of performers who were not included in the anthology. I saw the early work of solo artists who have since gone on to fame and/or notoriety. Performers like the Tony and Obie-award-winning Sarah Jones who I first saw do Surface Transit before her Bridge and Tunnel debuted on Broadway. Both works were a miraculous medley of persona in the body of one performer.  I also saw Staceyann Chin of Def Poetry Slam fame perform her piece Border/Clash which told me what it was like to grow up in an extended family in Jamaica, including a harrowing episode in which she is almost beaten and raped because of her homosexuality and whose more recent MotherStruck was directed by Cynthia Nixon of Sex and the City fame. Because of the power of word of mouth, I got myself to Nilaja Sun’s utterly compelling No Child in 2006 and Heather Raffo’s devastating Nine Parts of Desire in 2005 which was widely performed and awarded. Though I was hearing the name of Mike Daisey quite a bit, it took me an unconscionably long time to come around to his utterly compelling storytelling unraveling megalomaniacal men since I didn’t get to one of his monologues until The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs and then I was hooked. And, though she had been performing since Andy Warhol’s heyday, I only discovered Penny Arcade in 2016 thanks to St. Ann’s Warehouse. Her Longing Lasts Longer incorporating intricately edited music and sound-scapes with the collaboration of Steve Zehentner knocked my socks off.

Though I began the piece with academic speak claiming the form as a particularly American one, I also ran across many solo performers who hailed from places throughout the United Kingdom. As with Mike Daisey and Penny Arcade, it also took me an unconscionably long time to get myself to a performance by Daniel Kitson and while I was sort of perplexed by Anolog.ue since it featured various forms of audiotapes and Kitson’s recorded voice rather than the embodied Kitson who mostly remained offstage or moved silently through and around the audiotape machines spread throughout the vast St. Ann’s Warehouse space adjusting them, I was completely mesmerized and hooked by his storytelling in Mouse. I also saw Mikel Murfi whose The Man in Woman’s Shoes was a masterclass in embodied storytelling as he became not only man but also woman right before our very eyes just by the way he carried himself as he walked in place. More recently I saw Noni Stapleton whose monopolylogue consisted of a gal named Siobhan and a cow named Charolais (Fishamble) and whose transformations between woman and cow all through the slight tilt of the head and the slow twisting of jaw and tongue were indelibly planted in my mind’s eye. Then there was Sonya Kelly’s witty How To Keep an Alien, Bryan Burroughs’ imaginative updating of the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf and Tristan Sturrock’s lyrically told MayDay MayDay about an accident so horrific with an outcome so beautiful that it was nothing short of a beautiful love story that I still feel a longing to see again.

Still I was not done, and found myself happening upon interesting work performed by a wide range of solo artists.  There was the hip-hop and poetry inflected work of Lemon Andersen and Will Power, for example. There was Joe Assadourian’s autobiographical Bullpen which hilariously and humanely decodes the kind of men you might find yourself with in a holding pen in a New York City jail. There was Monica Hunken who rode a bike on stage for practically the entire performance of her Blondie of Arabia, and Christine Renee Miller whose transformations in Such Nice Shoes between homeless woman, yoga instructor/struggling actor, and entitled yoga client engagingly conveyed what it’s like to be a Korean-American artist struggling to make a go of it in NYC, and Angelica Page whose Turning Page literally channeled her mother, the actress Geraldine Page onto the floor of Dixon Place, and Lucie Pohl whose Hi, Hitler (what she thought everyone was saying to Hitler when she started to learn about the Holocaust) not only drew Woody Allen to the audience of the Cherry Lane Theater, but also featured some of the most expressive and fluid faces I’ve seen on a performer, and Benjamin Scheuer who told his story of an estranged father and a battle with cancer at a much-too- young age with the aid of multiple guitars placed strategically throughout the stage, and Chesney Snow whose solo show recounting relatives who were enslaved or imprisoned also incorporated two dancers and a pianist, and Geoff Sobelle whose The Object Lesson included an amazing moment in which, with ice skates on, he slices and dices a salad on a table, and most recently Liza Jessie Peterson’s illuminating and powerful The Peculiar Patriot at The National Black Theatre, and Diana Oh’s {my lingerie play} at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, as well as scores of others (Cynthia Hopkins, Kate Tempest, Dan Hoyle,Daniel Beaty, Mike Birbiglia, Colman Domingo, John Fugelsang, Christ Gethard, James Lecesne, Michael Moore…)

Yes, it’s true. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I am a bit of a NYC snob when it comes to theater. But that’s mostly because I can’t afford to fly to the West coast for a performance or to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a performance. What I definitely am is a live performance snob and so don’t feel like I’ve actually seen a performer if I see them only on the screen (like Anna Deavere Smith or Dan Kwong or Eve Ensler). But my solo performance imperative even took me to the Denver Arts Performance Center (my beloved nephews live in Denver) where I saw Beth Malone, award-winning actor in Fun Home, perform and sing her autobiographical So Far.

And even though I continued to attend so many solo performances, I still was NOT SATISFIED because I knew there were other performers doing really interesting work that I still hadn’t seen live. Performers like Holly Hughes, Dan Kwong (California-based), Heather Woodbury, Eve Ensler (although I did get to see her in the audience when I attended a performance of her I Am An Emotional Creature), Anna Deavere Smith, Lisa Kron (though I did get to see her in several of her plays), Bridget Everett and Guillermo Gomez Pena (also California-based). But just because I didn’t get to see them live didn’t mean I didn’t spend minutes, hours, and days recreating their performances with the help of students performing their texts or with the help of clips of their work.

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