A few days ago, I was accosted by a Fringe patron I’ve never seen before. She wanted to know what’s good this year; I mentioned (among other things) Dance for Grandma, explaining that it revolves around a young man’s memories of his dearly departed nana.
She leaned in conspiratorially and chuckled. “Doesn’t it make you wonder where you’ve been when somebody can just get up and talk about their family?”
No, fatass; it makes me wonder where you’ve been. If drawing on one’s own family history for dramatic material is considered cheating, then I guess we’re going to be sending a whole lotta artists to the penalty box. (Hey, Tennessee Williams: How about working for a living?) And I suppose the terrific New York actor/playwright Virginia Bryan will be right there with them, since -- according to the unique standard that’s apparently now being applied by some picky Pattys -- she’s simply doing impressions of people she already knows.
In her one-woman show My Three Moms, Bryan plays all of the attendees at the Georgia funerals of three women who were instrumental to her upbringing: her birth mother, the aunt who raised her, and the black caretaker who took up the slack for the other two. Various other relatives are on hand to pay their respects -- which, in true small-town fashion, means passive-aggressively digging up a bunch of old dirt under the guise of professing concern.
Byran homes in unerringly on the humor of a New York transplant being forced to drink once again from that uniquely Southern concoction that looks like sweet tea but is actually 100-proof venom. Then again, her Georgia relatives are only trying to help. They know she might be able to snag herself a “friendboy” if she’d just put that actin’ hobby on a back burner and start dressin’ a little better. Bless her heart.
As the tone shifts from the comedic to the nigh-on-tragic, Bryan distinguishes herself by the traps she avoids. Her portrayal of black characters comes off as keenly observed tribute instead of minstrelsy, and as a playwright, she rejects the easy impulse to look down on her down-home relations from a perch of metropolitan smugness. For all the dysfunction on parade, the play is headed toward a place of genuine healing -- which is what elevates My Three Moms above simple mimicry and makes it theater. Or maybe even “theatre,” like those cute city folk call it.
(OK, Tennessee; you can come out of the penalty box now. But one more word about your goddamn sister
Virginia Bryan - New York, NY
Friday 18 May; at 5:30pm in the Blue
Sunday 20 May; at 2:15pm in the Blue
Monday 21 May; at 7:00pm in the Blue
Tuesday 22 May; at 8:30pm in the Blue
Friday 25 May; at 7:00pm in the Blue
Saturday 26 May; at 11:15am in the Blue
Sunday 27 May; at 1:30pm in the Blue
Price: $11 + Fringe Button (good for entire Fringe)
Discount(s): Seniors/Students/Fringe Volunteers/Artists