Monday, October 25

Out West Review: Three Fascinating Monologues Reframe Place and Race | Theater

TThe monologue became a necessary staple over the lockdowns, reflecting the pandemic anguish and isolation in us with built-in social distance. Here he is again in three low-key short dramas directed by Rachel O’Riordan and Diane Page that speak of the sinister tranquility of confinement and of belonging, identity and race, as a belated reaction to last year.

Despite its familiarity, the form seems transfigured on the great black canvas of this setting, naked but Soutra gilmourfreestanding stair structure and subtly stunning lighting from Jessica Hung Han Yun. It has the curious effect of making the monologues seem bigger too, holding up the room with the force of each voice.

Gandhi arrives in London at the age of 18 in Tanika Gupta’s The Overseas Student. He wears a suit and boots, looking every inch like the consummate Englishman upon his arrival in 1888. Gupta’s story begins before the starting point of the award-winning Richard Attenborough biopic and is a part of his early childhood less known to some.

He’s always hungry, he can’t find vegetarian food, and his cultural alienation has some undertones from Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners. But more importantly, he comes from a wealthy family and is a privileged man even with this outsider status, taking elocution lessons and blending into “society.”

Esh Alladi in Tanika Gupta's Overseas Student.
Tender … Esh Alladi in The Overseas Student by Tanika Gupta. Photograph: Tristram Kenton / The Guardian

The complexity of the monologue lies in these intersections of identity and there are endearing moments that capture Gandhi’s loneliness, with political and spiritual awakenings as well, but the script feels like a character study rather than a story. What elevates it is the brilliant performance of Esh Alladi; fully inhabits your character, exudes emotion and intelligence.

Simon Stephens’ drama (with collaborator Emmanuella Cole), Blue Water and Cold and Fresh, is the highlight of the night. With a man addressing his late father, he increases the power by inches, keeping his powder dry until the last moment, gutting, changing molecules with his strength and giving the drama its final terrible form.

Tom Mothersdale plays a white history teacher in a mixed marriage, walking the streets of London locked up (“It’s like the whole city has been evacuated”). He visits various houses where his father lived and leaves clues about his troubled history (“I’m not sure how much I liked him, my father”).

As a monologue, you feel impressionistic and ambiguous at first, refusing to settle on a certain ground: is this a story about an unresolved father-son relationship, the way we reshape history, or mixed marriage and white guilt? There’s a particularly painful depiction of the Instagram-friendly, wealthy, white contingent at a BLM march in the summer of 2020. For a while, it seems to veer into Stephens Sea Wall-like territory as a story of mourning, but it moves on again. .

Tom Mothersdale in Blue Water and Cold and Fresh by Simon Stephens with Emmanuella Cole.
Crawls into brilliance … Tom Mothersdale in Simon Stephens’ Blue Water and Cold and Fresh. Photograph: Tristram Kenton / The Guardian

The play retains its central intrigue too consciously, perhaps, and this is frustration until the payoff at the end when everything, including the seemingly whimsical title, becomes clear. Mothersdale’s performance also turns brilliant.

The end of that monologue and a line, wild, has a visceral effect, freezing the air in the auditorium. But Roy Williams’ Go, Girl puzzles us with the story of Donna, successfully performed by Ayesha Antoine. She is a security guard and a proud mother, who has humor, cheek and the heroism of all women.

Donna begins by remembering the proud day she was chosen to sing for Michelle Obama at her school. A fellow student, now a successful photographer, takes a photograph that reframes the moment as a portrait of working-class black affliction (“She made us look like we were suffering”).

We’re hoping for the meaty drama around this to be scrapped, but it deviates from the intriguing setting to land on a local hero story involving Donna and her daughter. If this feels like a missed opportunity, lighten the mood with some smooth comedy and a good vibe, and it also pleases the crowd.

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