Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bo-Nita—Portland Center Stage—NW Portland



Survival

This one-woman show features Kate Eastwood Norris and is written by Elizabeth Heffron and directed by Gretchen Corbett.  It is playing at PCS at 128 NW 11th Ave. through March 16th.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org  or call 503-445-3700.


Growing up in America is not easy anymore.  In fact, growing up anywhere is not easy.  But when you’re a 13 year old girl who grows up with a mother who is in and out of prison, a series of “uncles,” where drugs and alcohol are considered “staples” in their home, you’re sexual active (not necessarily by choice) and one typical weekend activity involves disposing of a purported dead body, would not be considered “growing up,” but surviving.  In a nutshell, that’s her life, up to this point.

At the opening, we see this young lady in a playground, surrounded by a typical childhood-type environment, appropriate for a mini-biography of a life she never had.  She is waiting for her Mom to pick her up from school.  And, while waiting, she chooses to share her story with us.  Her Mom is Mona, whose life is a series of dead-end jobs, uppers and downers, and lots of booze, which is occasionally shared with Bo-Nita.


She has a Gramma, called Tiny and her Gramps is referred to as, The Colonel.  Her father is possibly unknown to her, but her most recent ex-step-father, Gerard, seems to be a frequent visitor.  Then there is Jacques, Gerard’s French uncle and a new “uncle” called Leon (or LeRoy, depending on who’s talking).  And, oh, yes, didn’t I tell you, they are all voiced by Norris.  Not that she’s crazy (necessarily), on the contrary, these incarnations seems to give her perspective and are necessary in maintaining her sanity.


The major plot of this monologue (dialogue, perhaps) is that Gerard has had a heart attack while possibly attempting to sexually abuse Bo-Nita.  Having gained the upper hand, momentarily, she proceeds to pummel Gerard’s face to a consistency akin to cherry jell-o.  Meanwhile Mona is in the next room with her newest beau and, when discovering the mess on the floor, they devise an ingenious plot of disposing of this blubbery, bulky mass of bile.  To tell you anymore more of this outrageous escapade’ would give away too much.  Suffice to say, Gerard has not yet had the last word and there is such a thing as a “re-do,” or a second chance, in life.


To say that Bo-Nita has learned some important lessons about life in this exercise, might be an overstatement.  She learns that, like a fly in a bowl of warm milk, you may not like being trapped in it, but you do have to learn how to make the best of it.  And, another Bo-Nita-ism, “naked, white guys look just like uncooked dinner rolls.”  Or, how about this one, “what if life turned out just to be a mean joke.”  But, what she has really learned, is not to approach life as if you are a victim, but a survivor.  And, another discovery, you need to find “your own, personal beat.”  In the end, I believe she has.
Heffron’s story is quite remarkable and scary, too.  Even if it is only partly based on her life experiences, it is a brutal but, darkly humorous, at times, tale.  It would be interesting to see how other 13 years olds respond to this story, or have a gifted young actress portray it.  Corbett has done an amazing job of pacing the story to get the full impact out of it.  She gives the tale plenty of “breathing” space, letting it sneak up on an audience, giving the illusion that maybe the character herself is only just now being able to put her thoughts into words, a type of stream-of-consciousness, and we, as the audience, are discoverers, or voyeurs, ourselves.

And, to put it simply and bluntly, Norris is extraordinary!  Not only is she able to portray at least a half dozen other characters, with only minimal changes in her voice or posture, but we never lose track of the story.  She is so good, I simply can imagine anyone else doing the role.  In over 40 years in the business myself, I have rarely seen a performance to equal this!  In other words, even though the story might be off-putting to some, trust that Kate (and Elizabeth and Gretchen) will lead you through it with such a deft hand, you will feel transported by the experience.
To say the least, I highly recommend this show.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.