Broken Dogs Legs/Jamal Lullabies
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
July 22, 2007
It's good to take your ideas to the far-out and uncomfortable places. Sometimes you have to go insane to really understand things—to let go whatever you have to let go of. Emily Conbere lets go in this show. And when she lets go, she goes to the weirdest places—and I went right along with her.
The night begins with Conbere performing her solo piece, Broken Dogs Legs, barefoot in a little white spaghetti-strap dress on a set populated by only by a chair, a bag of dog food, and a vanity table. Her character, named simply "She," is as quirky as can be. She is suffering from having a family. Her mother seems to be shallow and flighty. Her father is disconnected. And her brother is dead. Recent suicide. She meets a Black Lab in a dog park who becomes her therapist. She pays him in dog food and dime bags of weed. She is indeed, as she says, "damaged greats," but it takes intimate letters to Citibank and a man with a wheelie-cart instead of legs for her to figure it out.
Conbere is instantly distinctive and enchanting. Her writing goes to the oddest places. She doesn't push a joke, she pokes at it slowly without thinking about it. She plays her character as if she were playing her in her living room. She is so naturally funny. Conbere and her director, Rachael Rayment, create a character who impersonates within her own character. Her mother and father really seem like they're related to her. She doesn't attempt to transform. Her characters are a part of her. Conbere balances this piece brilliantly with laughs and stirring thoughts. It's a really great ride.
The next piece, Jamal Lullabies, is not so much a play as it is a serenade to a man from the women who loved him. Jamal is dead and we are all gathered here to hear the Jamal Girls sing their praises to him. The girls, Bekah Coulter, Larissa Lury, Allison Jill Posner, and Nicole Stefonek, raise their beautiful voices and look knowingly at each other with sincere sorrow until they've all taken their turn with a song. I wasn't entirely sure what to make of this piece. It held my attention but mostly because I kept expecting it to go another direction. This piece appealed to me as a point of interest because it was not at all like the previous segment and not at all what I expected. I think that's what's so remarkable about Conbere's work.
Check out this new summer festival (Undergroundzero) at Collective: Unconscious before it goes away. If this show is indicative of the rest of the fest, I think you'll have a good time.