Something To Talk About
The monologues in Talking With portray 11 women from disparate walks of life.
Thursday, May 18, 2000
The pre-show music at Talking With was an eclectic mix of blues, country, folk and jazz. The variety piqued my curiosity about the content of the play itself, the latest offering from Monterey County''s newest theater venue, Carmel Valley''s Magic Circle Center. What dramatic thread might one expect after lyrics as seemingly unrelated as "The sun is gonna shine in my back door someday," and "Mamas don''t let your babies grow up to be cowboys"? Can a series of talks by a series of characters with no connection to one another, let alone a plot, hold together as a unified piece? The answer is yes.
Talking With, by Jane Martin and directed by Elsa Con, is an entertaining and thought-provoking collection of 11 monologues by women from disparate walks of life. They range from a snake handler to an actress, from a rodeo-rider to a woman in the last stages of labor, from a woman who escapes her pain in the land of Oz to a woman who finds beauty in reflected light.
Each monologue is a work that stands alone but also reflects and comments upon the others. The questions asked and answered in a multitude of ways in this show are: How does one reconcile reality and fantasy; material existence and spiritual being; joy and pain? Specifically, the questions are asked from a female point of view. But far from being exclusively a "woman''s play," these monologues touch on universal themes that speak to the human condition regardless of gender. These are questions to which all seek answers. And isn''t one of the functions of art to help us articulate the question? Talking With does this beautifully.
What impresses me about Jane Martin''s script is her determination to respect each character regardless of class, religion or life choice. She never condescends to these women nor trivializes their lives. Therefore, they come across as unique individuals with surprising and profound things to say about themselves and the world around them.
For the most part the performances in Con''s production are solid. Sherry Kefalas does a nice turn as the washed up rodeo-rider in "Rodeo," and gives an even stronger performance in "Dragons" as an expectant mom praying to St. Margaret and contemplating the monstrous beauty of her as-yet-unborn abnormal child. Neva Hahns is feisty and matter-of-fact as the homeless woman in "French Fries," who dreams of the mystical world inside McDonald''swhere God gave us plastic to show us what the eternal unchanging, undecaying world of heaven would be like. I did take issue with Anne Hoffman''s English accent for a character who supposedly came from Connecticut ("Marks"). It came across as overwrought and affected, and also distracted me from the character''s story.
But the truly transcendent performances came from Maria-Elena Cordero. Cordero is an actress who is absolutely present in each moment, and she combines intelligence and intuition to create characters who are achingly real. Her presence is quiet but her command of the stage is powerful, and her total immersion in her character is heartbreaking, as the work of a fine artist often is. In "Twirler," she took a belief in the mysticism of baton-twirling to a higher plane. "Lamps," Cordero''s second monologue, was equally luminous. She transformed the timber and cadence of her voice to create a character aged but still with a girl-like quality. She was beautiful in every light.
Throughout the production there is fine attention to detail. The set (by Laura Cote) done in grays, pinks and mauves, evokes a feminine geography with a kind of three-dimensional paean to Georgia O''Keefe. The soft cloth walls and the free form scenic artistry moves and embraces the stage in a way that is dramatic but not overwhelming. The lighting too was thoughtful and complementary to the various and sundry moods of the play.