nytheatre.com review by Robin Rothstein
August 15, 2006
Writing and performing a solo show seems to be one of the most daring challenges in the theatre. This lone person bears the burden of conveying a story to us that says something universal about the world we live in through her eyes and personal experience. In Eenie Meanie, writer/performer Teresa Willis definitely has something passionate to say about how her evolution was affected by the racism she has observed around her beginning back in the sixties, but I was ultimately left questioning what I was supposed to take away.
As soon as Willis enters the stage she hits the ground running, as she begins portraying herself at five years old in her native town of Valley Station, Kentucky back in 1965, when she sees a "colored" for the first time. Eenie Meanie, as directed by Elizabeth Swenson, feels rushed from this point forward and doesn't give itself enough time to settle into a dramatic arc, making it difficult to hook into what this show is supposed to be about. For example, Willis tells us about being a civil rights kid and how she has a desegregated doll collection, but we don't ever get a true sense of what influenced this mindset before we are on to another scene.
One idea that I found very compelling, which may have been unconscious, is the repeated experience from one scene to the next of Willis showing herself wanting to be desperately liked by African Americans, and how she seems insecure in her whiteness, but this idea is never fully identified or developed.
The show hits its stride about two-thirds of the way in when Willis is in her 30s in California and becomes smitten with her next-door neighbor, who is both African American and a woman. The scenes begin to flow well from this point forward, as we see how Willis is affected by this relationship and how it changes her views of her parents, who she now begins to see more objectively.
One relationship that especially deserves more stage time is Willis's relationship with her father. Throughout the piece, Willis compares her idolizing of her "tolerant preachy young father" to Scout's idolizing of Atticus in To Kill A Mockingbird, but because this theme isn't more fully explored, it doesn't feel as satisfying as it should when it comes full circle.
There are definitely some potentially strong threads in Eenie Meanie, but as it stands now the show mainly succeeds only as a chronicle of one woman's memory clips of how she has interacted with African Americans at different points in her life. Maybe this is Willis's intention, but if she would consider extrapolating some of her nascent themes and developing those further in place of trying to cover so much chronological ground, she would likely end up with a much more meaningful piece.