The Sunny Side of the Street/A Mouth Full of Water
nytheatre.com review by Debbie Hoodiman
July 20, 2006
At its best, a one-person show gives an actor a chance to showcase his or her storytelling abilities in a direct and captivating way. At its worst, a one-person show can feel self-indulgent or confusing. The Sunny Side of the Street and A Mouth Full of Water, offered together on a double bill at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, show an interesting range of what can come out of the genre. In both shows, with varying success, the writer and performer is using the genre to work through a problematic experience.
The Sunny Side of the Street, written and performed by Estelle Campagna, documents a young, white, Southern girl named Lulu's experience of racial injustice. Campagna establishes Lulu's friendship with a black boy in her largely segregated town, and shows her frustration with not being able to help him when he is accused of a crime of which she believes he is innocent. She also shows how Lulu's life changes after her mother's death. If this seems like too much to bite off in a single short piece, I agree, and I think that is one major problem with the rather unfocused script. It is clear that Campagna wants to work through these two very important story lines, but maybe she should narrow her subject matter so that she can explore one or the other of them with more depth. I appreciated her attempt to add artistic detachment to the story by playing different characters in a series of scenes, using dialogue and mime. Overall, however, the piece needs more focus, in terms of both acting and writing.
In the quirky and much more successful A Mouth Full of Water, writer-performer Tess Fontaine tells the story of having a cancerous tumor removed from her stomach. Fontaine uses a sort of mock lecture format, speaking directly to the audience about whales, using subtopics listed on chart paper on an easel on stage. In her smart script, Fontaine creates an interesting parallel: while she is giving information about whales, she is also giving information about her experience with cancer and making connections between the two. Fontaine is often funny and very energetic and playful. One technique I particularly enjoyed was when her character accidentally slips from the "lecturer" persona and shows her true emotions. Fontaine's piece makes creative use of the one person show genre, and I appreciated both the content of the piece and her moving performance of it.