nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
August 15, 2007
Nancy Moricette's new solo show, Jaspora, tells the story of the title character, a second generation Haitian woman with identity issues and self-esteem problems. She was raised in the U.S. by her first generation parents who taught her that "Haitians hate blacks, and blacks hate Haitians." This is particularly confusing for Jaspora since she is both. The persecution she receives at the hands of her public schoolmates reinforces her parents's maxim. Consequently, she grows up ashamed of her heritage. "Foreign is not in anymore," she dryly tells us.
Jaspora takes viewers on a hallucinatory excursion through our heroine's self-hating subconscious after she takes one too many sleeping pills. It's a journey that includes a kid who is shot to death by police after challenging his schoolteacher, a condescending TV news reporter, and Jaspora's own childhood. When she starts dating a Caucasian boy in her teens she exuberantly declares "I won! I'm dating a white boy!" to the sound of The Price is Right theme music. Later she admits, "I think I might have a high threshold for pain because he's an artist." When classmates of the dead schoolboy are interviewed on television, they immediately distance themselves from him because of his stance on public school revisionist history ("Whose history is that?" he asks his white teacher, "Your history or mine?"). Moricette is very clear that Jaspora's malaise belongs not only to her, but to her entire race.
What Moricette is unclear about is the piece's structure and form. It took me more than half of Jaspora's hour-long running time to figure out that it took place inside the protagonist's mind and was not a loosely-connected collection of disparate characters. Director Ilknur River Ozgur emphasizes this conceit's jagged surrealism at the expense of clarity, and the authentic Haitian accent that Moricette uses from time to time, while beautifully executed, hides important exposition from the ears of those who may not be used to it.
Otherwise, Moricette is a forceful and convincing performer. She has a lot of energy, and is very focused and committed to her material. She sells a good bit of Jaspora just on the strength of her performance alone. It would be interesting to see what she could do with stronger writing (either her own or someone else's). For while the message of Jaspora is undoubtedly timely and important, the execution is too diffuse to make the desired impact.