nytheatre.com review by Amy Lee Pearsall
May 12, 2011
What would you do as a young performance artist dealing with an unplanned pregnancy? If you are Angela Kariotis—a petite powerhouse with streetwise roots and a spoken-word sensibility—first you freak out a bit, and then you write and perform a one-woman show in response to the experience. As the resulting production, under the direction of Florinda Bryant, Kariotis’s Stretch Marks examines birth and afterbirth, creation of the self, motherhood, and the point of origin of the soul.
Kariotis is a veteran of the spoken-word circuit, and so poetry is central to this piece. In Nikes, a Keith Haring-printed T-shirt, and a pair of faux-leather leggings, her delivery on a bare stage is heartfelt, often accompanied by hip-hop flavored movement and the recurring physical enactment of a heartbeat. While the energy supply of Kariotis in this production seems almost boundless, the size of her performance at times could perhaps be scaled down to match the intimate size of the venue at Stage Left Studio. She is most effective as the narrator when she strips the larger than life veneer of performing the words and just allows herself to be present with the audience.
The characters that we meet in Stretch Marks are straight out of Kariotis’s own life, many of whom are presented with a hyper-physicality that sometimes risks pushing them into the realm of caricature. Her brother comes across as a parody of someone coasting through life on his street-cred, while others feel as if they just stepped out of an episode of Jersey Shore. Admittedly, these broad strokes do allow for some very funny comedic moments. Kariotis has wit to spare when channeling characters like her Greek mother, but it was the subtle and endearing portrait of Paulie, the father of her child, that made me both chuckle and catch my breath each time she brought him to the stage.
In addition to vibrant characters, Kariotis offers a resonant central portrayal of a woman in the throes of pregnancy and the early stages of motherhood, complete with excitement, anxiety, terror, exhaustion, depression, and elation. Not content to simply dwell on colors for the nursery (indeed, she leaves that task to Paulie), she finds herself confronting change while attempting to retain her own identity as a woman and an artist. Taking inspiration from Plato and claiming him as an ancestral midwife of sorts, she traverses through the birth of her child to the rebirth of herself.
Ellen Rosenberg illuminates the production with a light hand, occasionally cutting to a fast spot so that Kariotis may do a quick take to the audience. At 65 minutes, Stretch Marks delivers laughs, catharsis, movement, and metaphor. “I hold on tight and keep my feet planted on the pelvic floor,” she says. On the ride of her life, Angela Kariotis has invited us all to join her on this rite of passage. Hop on: it’s a heck of a journey.