I finished my Wednesday night at the 2008 Indianapolis Fringe Festival by going to the Theatre on the Square’s Second Stage and seeing a brilliant, one-woman show from Cincinnati, Ohio: “In Rehearsal,” written and performed by Alison Vodnoy.
Vodnoy introduces herself as Akiva (ah-KEE-vuh), a woman whose first love is live theatre. She loves it because something sacred happens between the actors and the audience. “We are in two worlds, but we are both breathing the same air.”
She also implies that she loves her audience. She says, “I will let you witness my bliss and my terror. That is love.”
I share these beliefs, more or less, so when she started to tell us about the various people she has dated in her search for a secondary, human love, I listened carefully.
I also watched carefully. Vodnoy is tiny, flexible, and graceful – a dancer as well as an actor, writer, and director. She expresses some of the emotions and actions in her stories as movement that uses her whole body.
Akiva tells us about the wrong men (and one wrong woman) that she dated. Interspersed with these stories are brief sessions with her therapist. Each wrong relationship is named on a large screen: The Repressed Republican, The Drunk Director, The Wine Connoisseur, and so on.
At first, although I enjoyed the fact that Vodnoy brought so much to her storytelling – her voice, her words, her movements – I felt a little uncomfortable about the fact that Akiva found it so easy to label her ex-lovers. Labeling them made them more one-dimensional and therefore distanced me from them. And from her.
Also, I felt a little – just a little – as if I had heard all this before. Women’s magazines and self-help books are filled with stereotypes that are not actually very helpful.
Mind you, I teared up when Akiva decided that she wanted to date “someone like me” – i.e., a nice, Jewish girl – and therefore she would date a woman instead of a man. My tears spilled over when that relationship did not work out, either. No one can truly be the mirror image of someone else, but even if they could, that’s not the answer. That’s not the purpose of love.
But again, I felt – just a teeny bit – as if I had heard this before. Almost every straight woman I know has, at one time or another, been so fed up with men that she at least considers being with a woman. Sometimes it just seems like the logical thing to try.
So Akiva is normal. So what?
After sharing six or seven dating stories, Vodnoy reaches for a clothes tree that has been on stage with her all along. She puts on a man’s shirt over her black leotard, or she picks up an elegant walking stick…and her whole being changes. She becomes each of the ex-lovers, and tells the stories from their points of view, in their voices.
Each portrayal is unique and completely believable – a “wow” to watch. I sat up straighter in my chair, loving Vodnoy’s exquisite performance artistry.
I wondered how the piece would end.
At the end, Akiva tells us that when she was five years old, the other kids were always messing things up. They didn’t do as she directed. All of her adult relationships so far have been like those childhood experiences. She finds herself saying, “I don’t recognize this. This is not what I wrote.”
Akiva says that this is okay, because dating is just a rehearsal. Some day, she implies, she will find the right person for her: someone who will take direction from her and follow her directions correctly.
When I heard that, I thought, “Oh, sweetie. That’s your problem, right there. I may not be very successful at relationships, myself, but even I know that you can’t try to direct your partner and call it love. Even I know that it takes two writers collaborating on the script if it is going to have a long run on relationship Broadway.”
However, ever since I left this show I have been thinking about the fact that Vodnoy did not perform this piece as herself. She created the character of Akiva instead. Akiva is unaware of the belief that is sabotaging her. Vodnoy is not.
However, she doesn’t knock us over the head with it. Vodnoy never portrays her therapist and never tells the story from his point of view because her break-throughs are her own. And so are ours.
The subtlety of this piece is brilliant. I wish I could go see it again.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com