Solo-play invites introspection
It is always a rare delight to watch a play performed by its creator. Though at times such a personal work can unintentionally alienate an audience, at others, they can be evocative, drawing an audience into a vivid, heartfelt experience. From start to finish, “little sister: An Afro-Temporal Solo-Play,” was of the latter kind.
The performance took place in the Intercultural Center Lounge on Thursday evening as part of the Intercultural Center and the Gender and Sexuality Center’s celebration of International Women’s Day.
Part of the event was a post-performance Q&A session with the play’s writer and creator, Misty De Berry, who is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Performance Studies at Northwestern University.
De Berry’s play is described in its program as “at once memoryscape and a mytho-biography,” but I find that to be an objective description which ignores the subjective experience of the audience. In my opinion, it is more accurate to call it an invitation.
Before the play even started, the audience was encouraged to write the names of loved ones on slips of paper to invite their presence into the room. The Intercultural Center Lounge, filled with the warm glow of standing lamps and a soft, smoky smell, provided an ambient setting for the performance. The carpeted floor muted De Berry’s bare feet, and in the opening ritual of her performance, all the audience could hear was the undercurrent of music, the tempo of her breathing and the rustle of those paper names in her hand. In these quiet first moments, De Berry invited the audience into an experience.
According to De Berry, the play incorporated elements of theatrical jazz, and this influence was evident by the almost musical nature of the performance. The first words of the play, “This be my little sister,” became a recurring riff, and the odd time signatures of jazz music manifested as temporal experimentation in De Berry’s piece. There is even a blue note mid-performance, a moment of anger in an otherwise calm, almost whimsical monologue.
The play consists of only a handful of monologues, occurring again and again throughout the half-hour performance, but it never once grew tiresome. Each new iteration of the same monologue brought fresh emphasis, different emotion and a new perspective. Despite being a contemporary play, De Berry’s experience with Shakespearean theater shone through, and every inflection of every word was clearly a deliberate choice.
Although the play made many references to the unique experiences of the African diaspora that I, as a Korean-American, was not privy to, De Berry’s animated performance still invited me to share in the emotion of those memories. Though I did not understand the details of every reference, I did manage to glimpse how those details seemed to affect De Berry herself.
Watching this performance, the repeating segments conjured an image in my mind: It was reminiscent of striking something again and again, the same spot from different angles, trying to dislodge something stuck. Or, perhaps, rubbing at a stubborn knot in the muscle, trying to soothe it. Emotions come loose, bringing catharsis. The release of old hurts brings relief.
All in all, De Berry’s performance of “little sister” was one that captivated and kept me in the moment. De Berry’s use of the space was interesting, and the distinct voices she summoned throughout her performance were equal parts thoughtful and startling. However, the performance left me with the peculiar sense that I was close to some epiphany which eluded me in the end.
I asked De Berry after the show, “Would you say that this is a play that can be watched again and again?” She assured me that yes, it is a play that differs every time she performs it, and invited us to watch it again, given the chance. And, given the chance, I would very much like to.