Gang bangers

My Red Bush

Written and performed by Michele Carlo
Directed by Allison Astor
Horse Trade Theater Group
St. Marks Theater
Non-union production (closed)
Review by John Chatterton

Michelle Carlo, in her entertaining one-woman show, produces out of the hat of her Bronx childhood a sextet of bad girls, forming a gang called the Bloodsisters. The evening's monologs parade the girls through their teens and up to the present.

"Tough Tit" Terry, in a red bandana, the leader, goes to jail for "anger management issues" (read: beating up a deli linejumper with an eggplant) but gets out and offers successful classes in "street yoga" (its positions: The Subway; The Victim; The Cockroach) on the Upper East Side.

Edna "Holland Tunnel" Snook, in a blond wig, tells of her post-gang days trying to do phone sex. She got her nickname by being proficient at the real thing. She invents in its stead something called "country porn," a cross between porn and country music. (It was unclear why she found phone sex so disgusting, given her past.)

Velvet "The Stump" (she's short) Lenahan tries to make it in TV. She gets lipo to reduce her weight for an audition, then finds out that she's auditioning for the mother role. She goes over the edge at the bad writing of a TV commercial at another audition, and flashes her red pubic hair at the director (hence the title). This was told rather confusingly as a flashback by a Velvet now looking more like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard.

The first three characters show a tendency to loose writing and overperforming: they tell amusing stories but don't develop very far. What character development there is often illogical. "Janey-the-Waste," by contrast, tells her poignant story while evidently on Tuinols; it develops that she ODed, and is, in fact, dead. Marie "Grand Canyon" Russo, another loose girl, has married a respectable older guy and moved to the suburbs. She tells her monolog after discovering her daughter about to have sex. She has also just learned that her husband has prostate cancer. But her scariest discovery is about the falsity of her hausfrau pose: she lusts after her daughter's boyfriend and she doesn't want to care for a sick old man.

The last, and funniest, sketch is of Carmen Mofongo, a character Carlo has developed into a separate show. She imitates '50s entertainer Carmen Miranda, with bananas hanging off her hat and a flamboyant cerise costume. (Mofongo is a Puerto Rican dish involving double-fried green bananas, a Puerto Rican "heart attack on a plate.") The development of the character is disappointing, though, as the big change in her life apparently came when she decided she didn't want to make fun of her own people -- so why is she making fun of Miranda?

The costumes (Ben Brady) were fun, and changed quickly; the set was a red folding metal chair; the sound was an appropriate collection of pop songs from the last three decades; and the lights (Raven Solano, "lights/tech") illuminated the stage and pointed up the mood on occasion. The slide projections, being perforce projected from the side, were distorted and didn't add a lot to the evening.

Carlo defined her characters sharply as a performer, though sometimes she erred on the side of broadness rather than subtlety. (Sometimes her "character" diction got in the way of the dialog.) She needs to revisit the writing with an eye to development, motivation, and transitions. But the overall effect was entertaining and enlightening: a visit, for many, to an alien but very human world.

 Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2001 John Chatterton