Two terrific performances in two fine monologues were on display at The Sage Theatre. Disparate in subject matter but not in theme, Paint It Black by Mark Victor Olsen and Lavinia Speaks by J.S. Staniloff were good examples of what can be accomplished with one actor and a good script. Both were well directed by Michelle Macau.
Billy (Jase Draper) is fresh out of the fourth grade and full of plans for the summer -- a ceramics class, and a basement production of "Flower Drum Song." Fate and family intervene, and he tells of his family's cross-country drive, where the Rolling Stones' latest song, "Paint It Black," is on every radio station. Father is a silent type who tries to impress manly virtues on Billy, yet Billy goes out of his way to make allowances for his father's limitations, and fantasizes getting closer to him. Mother tries ineptly to keep everything running smoothly, and his indeterminately sexed twin siblings simply denigrate everything he does. When they reach their destination, Billy starts to see the phoniness of his family's behavior, and he discovers his own anger -- and independence. This is not an easy course of action for Billy, and Draper manages the hairpin turns beautifully, making Billy's actions funny, frightening, and very real. He is also good at navigating the dual needs of the play, being both narrator and character. At the end, when Billy rides a roller coaster by himself (something he would never have considered before), he is one determined, angry young man, and the audience's heart goes out to him.
The audience's heart also goes out to Lavinia (Carol Denise Clark), as her life unfolds in Lavinia Speaks. She doesn't have to discover her anger; it's all she can do to keep it in check to get through the day. And she doesn't just speak, the words come out of her in torrents. Alternately and simultaneously angry and resentful, she somehow manages to balance her various identities as legal secretary, teacher, actor, musician, daughter, African-American, feminist -- she is particularly fierce about depictions of black women. Yet, as embodied by Clark, Lavinia glows. Lavinia Speaks is not as linear as Paint It Black, and it juggles several different stories -- making it just like your life and everyone you know. Director Macau kept the action moving quickly, with Lavinia in constant motion between four different playing areas. The play is very well-constructed, never over explanatory. Plot points are mentioned here, picked up adroitly there, until there is a recognizable, fallible, very real woman. Lavinia invokes one of her namesakes, from Titus Andronicus, whose hands were cut off and tongue cut out. This Lavinia, though, communicates very expressively, even when she is tied in knots. Her life is not always pretty, and certainly not easy, but definitely worth listening to.
The set (uncredited) and lighting (Krista Stella) for Lavinia
Speaks were particularly effective and expressive.
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Copyright 1999 David Mackler