Thursday, February 23, 2017

“Three Americans” – An excellent snapshot of modern life

Cynthia Jones in Three Americans (Tiffany Diamond)

Three Americans
West of Lenin
Through March 4, 2017

A trio of monologues have been mounted by the folks at West of Lenin specifically to address, in some fashion, the new administration. Director Anita Montgomery and producer AJ Epstein asked three playwrights if they had material to contribute to the effort. The evening they have produced is a stunning example of range and response in a very “now” fashion.

Three Americans: Voices of Hope includes pieces by Yussef El Guindi, Regina Taylor and Mashuq Mushtaq Deen.  The Birds Flew In is an El Guindi monologue from an immigrant mother of a soldier. Taylor writes about an African American woman describing how important voting has been in her life in Déjà vu. Deen, in Draw the Circle, gives us a portrait of a woman in love with a trans man and the challenges she’s faced with him.

Annette Toutonghi, a beloved veteran Seattle actor who keeps a very low profile, presents a grief-stricken yet raging mother who has lost her son. In vocalizations that range from a whisper to a scream, she castigates those visitors who have just come to offer platitudes about her loss and her son’s heroism. With a hint of a foreign accent, vaguely Middle Eastern, she talks to her son and tries to understand what made him enlist.

The mother circles back over and over to how she tried to help her son become a man. Now she thinks maybe she should have encouraged him to become “a sissy” and maybe she wouldn’t have lost him. In the monologue’s most poignant moment, she confesses her deepest darkest guilt – that she actually was a little proud of his choice.

Cynthia Jones becomes Pearl, a 103 year old woman who is frustrated with her great-granddaughter. The granddaughter thinks voting is rigged and therefore it doesn’t matter, while grandmother recalls beatings and challenges to her rights to vote and how hard she fought to do so. She reminds us of the quizzes that African Americans were forced to take to vote and how long she studied the Constitution before she arrived for her test, only to have the man ask her how many jelly beans were in the jar!

Megan Ahiers presents Molly, a wholly modern lesbian who tells the story of her relationship with a woman who entranced her the minute she saw her. They are preparing to go visit family in a common and painful ritual of uneasy acceptance. But Molly has had to roll with her lover’s desire to transition to being a man while still loving him.

Molly is frustrated, now, that they are sometimes taken for a “normal” straight couple, while she wants to tell everyone the whole truth. It’s a moment for the audience to grapple with their own thoughts about whether it would be better or worse for us to be taken for “normal” or not, too.

The evening is a swift one, just over 60 minutes, but the complexities of the pieces and the fervor of the delivery make it feel full and complete. While none of the pieces references this last month in any direct way, all combine to show the complexities of America and the many lives who entwine to live here.

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