nytheatre.com review by Alyssa Simon
August 19, 2012
Lástima is a Spanish word meaning compassion or pity. When Katya Lidsky, the writer and star of the profoundly touching and funny one person show I'm Sorry: How An Apologist Became An Activist, uses it to describe her feelings about the rights of animals, her emotion seems to infuse her entire body and soul. I don't remember when I was so deeply moved by a performer.
The self-described people pleaser is the middle daughter of an extremely close Cuban Jewish family. In a hilarious recurring joke, she shows the audience how emotionally tied she is to her parents by never being able to get off the phone with them without a ritual of blown kisses, singing and endless "Ok, I gotta go. Yes, I gotta go. Gotta go." In my family, we call them "Jewish goodbyes," so I could really relate.
She is happily married to a supportive husband and employed at a steady if unfulfilling job, but she is exceedingly concerned with being liked and the way she is perceived. Her coping mechanism for dealing with all of her intense insecurity and fears, she tells us, is to binge and purge.
The play starts with Lidsky attending her first meeting of Overeaters Anonymous. She tiptoes in and apologizes to everyone individually before she sits, but is not ready to share her story. She then brings to life the other people in the room. One, a man who can't make eye contact as he tells his story of loneliness and compulsive eating, is simply heart-breaking.
She has a great desire for purpose and to make a positive difference in the world, which leads her to volunteer at an animal shelter. There, she discovers not only a mission in life, but also her own power as an activist and the strength to build her self-esteem.
Lidsky has a great gift for showing each character's emotional life through her physicality, elastic expressions, but most importantly, I feel, her great empathy, which is palpable. Not only does she show us the heart of a human being in all its humor and poignancy, she portrays different animals she meets in the shelter. Each one has a personality, a story and a universal need for love.
There are disturbing facts and statistics about the abuse of animals on factory farms, in pet stores and laboratories. There is also a film montage of some animals that have been maimed in experiments. The director Gilles Chiasson, however, has the good taste to show just enough of the awful truth, but not overwhelm.
The same sensitive treatment is given to Lidsky's eating disorder. Once, she shows us how she would excuse herself from the family dinner table to vomit. After that, we only see her enact the ritual of closing the bathroom door and turning on both faucets to cover the noise of what she is about to do.
The highly polished and seamless way the sound design by Ross Goldman and production design by Karyl Newman are incorporated into the production is impressive, especially given the super tight FringeNYC tech times, an unavoidable reality of any theatre festival.
I'm Sorry is dedicated to the Beagle Freedom Project, an organization that works to free beagles from laboratories and to raise awareness of their plight. Regardless of which side of the vivisection issue you're on, this show will make you think and for me, it renewed my feeling of the importance of compassion for all living creatures—a great reason to go to the theatre!