Friday, February 27, 2015

Locally Grown solo performances well worth the gamble

Sara Porkalob and duck heads (Truman Buffett)
Jose Amador (Truman Buffett)

Solo pieces are often stories that you've never heard before. They don't have to be "true" or autobiographical, but as with many types of writing, solo pieces are written by people who write "what they know." 

Sometimes, a one-person show will be performed only as one person, and sometimes the performer becomes multiple people in the story. In the recent "festival," Locally Grown, Jose Amador performs as himself throughout his piece and only becomes his father for a moment. In contrast, Sara Porkalob becomes many characters in a flurry of quick changes that sometimes are accomplished by slight movements from one side to another.

Both of these plays are autobiographical and both deal with cultures and families and traditions far from the white-bread American norm (she says tongue just a bit in cheek). Jose tells about returning for a visit to family in Puerto Rico and shares his growing emotional connection with a land he left. Sara recreates a bit of family history as she becomes her grandmother and tells a rather amazing tale of Filipino gangsters and single motherhood and hints at even more.

Both modes are part of solo performing tradition, and only the story to be told dictates what form it should take. But there is a special responsibility that solo performers take on because, of course, they are the only people on stage for the entire performance. It takes a certain extra self-confidence to command that attention and believe that what you have to say is worth the audience's time.

Jose's production is entitled El Hijo Prodigo (Prodigal Son). He takes the audience on a journey of the sights and sounds of Puerto Rico, the food, the family and the comraderie. His telling seduces the audience into feeling his feelings and connecting with aspects of Puerto Rico that tourists are not likely to find. 

Sara's production is Dragon Lady. She becomes her grandmother on her grandmother's 75th birthday. Loathe to join the celebration upstairs that she doesn't really want, Grandma convinces Sara to stay downstairs by promising her a story no one else knows. 

Sara then shares with us the story of her mother's birth, shrouded in secrets and danger, though we've already seen (through Sara's recreation) her mother and sisters planning the birthday party, so we are assured of a relatively happy ending. 

Each production is a soul-satisfying experience. Jose's can be seen tonight and tomorrow. Sara's is completed, but her plan, before perhaps exploring the various international fringe festivals, is to bring the piece back to Theatre Off Jackson for their Solo Performance Festival at the end of March. (It's not clear at this time when Jose might perform his piece again.)

Sara's piece is a whirlwind of story-telling. She becomes her mother, two aunts and grandmother on a car ride, and various people from her grandmother's past as a young Filipino bathroom scrubber with few prospects, falling in love with a mystery man and finding out she's picked the absolute wrong guy. 

She demonstrates her grandmother's ability to sing (by demonstrating her own) and weaves a tale so amazing you might not believe that it's true at all. There is no time to think, for the audience. Just to hold on for the ride.

We have a wealth of solo performers here and teachers like Keira Macdonald (a solo performer herself) to mentor those who would like to try it out. Those who are presenting their fully developed pieces, whether it's Locally Grown or SPF, are certainly worth gambling on!

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