nytheatre.com review by Tomi Tsunoda
August 18, 2006
Pack Light is a one-woman show that explores the dilemmas of a multicultural heritage in a world that is becoming increasingly categorical. Caroline Neisha Taylor utilizes monologue, song, dance, props, and projections to communicate a collage of stories about her life and her search for a place to belong.
As a person of multiple ethnicities and cultural backgrounds, I found that many of the stories resonated strongly with me. I was glad to see someone addressing racial issues from the standpoint of someone struggling with their ethnic and cultural identity, rather than someone fighting for acceptance or equality of an identity that's sure. The dilemma of the global "mutt," though increasingly common, is woefully under-discussed, and Taylor deserves kudos for trying to bring a spotlight to it. I found myself wondering, though, if the themes would resonate as strongly for someone without the same baggage. In fact, my date for the evening, an American White Girl through and through, found it harder to relate to than I did.
The writing is intelligent, engaging, and well-structured. Taylor is extremely likable, the performance is intimate and conversational, and it is easy to believe everything she says; but the production never feels any more theatrical than that. The stage is littered with baggage, literally, that's stuffed full of clothes and props. Taylor frequently packs and unpacks the bags, occasionally pulling something out and setting it up for us to see, but these things are never an active part of the storytelling. They function only as literal symbols of a life that we did not take part in, and often don't carry any meaning, either visually or thematically. It's unclear from watching it if these were choices made by Taylor or her director, Daniel Banks. If they were added by Banks, I think his direction got in the way of the storytelling and did both the writer and performer a big disservice. If they were Taylor's choices, Banks certainly could have done much more to pull her away from her literality and activate the stage.
This issue was present also in the costume design (designer not credited), which symbolically shifts from belt to no belt, all black to all white, but without any thematic resonance beyond the change itself. The most theatrical motion comes from lighting designer Bradley King, whose simple choices smartly shift us from one part of the collage to another, while adding mood and theatrical dimension where it may not otherwise come through.
In the end, I think this production showcases the talents of a passionate and intelligent young writer, who has some considerable performance chops. Many of the anecdotes are compelling, moving, and funny, but as an event this performance feels more like listening to a friend-of-a-friend's life story over drinks than a theatrical experience. Unfortunately, I think this hinders the audience's ability to relate to and access the themes of the text, and will leave most of them wondering if there's any purpose for them here beyond sympathy.