A solo performance is still a play: the piece must be well-written, have a solid narrative structure, a beginning, middle, and end, and a reason to BE.
Andrea Caban’s solo play, Questions my Mother Can’t Answer starts with a bang, literally. Andrea, the playwright and performer, recounts how she was hit by a cab. “Honey,” she says to her husband, “New York is out to kill me.” (It’s a feeling we’ve all had.) The cab does more than knock her down; Caban finds that she’s “lost my flow” and hurts all over, that “food tastes terrible. Marriage tastes terrible. Even walking Sophie my dog gives me no joy.”
She starts finding connections with women her mother’s age; women in their 60s, people she isn’t sure why she needs to talk to, but feels compelled to do so. (Her mother’s voice is heard plaintively on the answering machine, asking if Andrea is all right). The women Andrea connects with include Mary, a shaman and ballroom dancer; Lisa, a healer; Gay, who facilitates meditation groups; Jill, an African-American college professor; Norwegian Brit; her Aunt Shirley; a woman named Genevieve she met on the R train…women for whom “the veils of denial have been kind of washed away.” Two of the women are lesbians, most have been married to a man (or more than one), some have children (Andrea does not. Not that that’s an issue. Yes it is).
The women tell Andrea stories of having raised a handicapped child, of being married to a man who came back from Viet Nam “locked away,” of giving up a child, of being a “donations only” prostitute. Of becoming shamans and ballroom dancers.
They tell her how they negotiated with life to keep on living, how they married, parted, gave birth, found love again, or went it alone. Caban the playwright has taken this found text, these oral histories, or personal mythologies, as she characterizes them, from real people, then Caban the actor has transformed them into living beings (herself included) and and is Andrea the character onstage and the powerful older women who survived.
Of course, it goes back to her mother. All roads lead there. Finally, Andrea does sit down and asks her mother the same questions. What Andrea’s mother says, and how she says it, and what (if) it teaches Andrea is the end of the journey so far, and one which couldn’t have been reached without the help of Mary, Lisa, Shirley, and the others.
Questions my Mother Can’t Answer is a strong, deeply-felt play about the power of women, particularly older women, and their hard-won wisdom. It’s well directed by Rachel Eckerling, on an almost-bare stage: there’s a chair, a small table holding the answering machine, and not much else. Caban uses shoes and a pendant as essential props. The piece’s effect is deepened by the strong sound design (by Marcelo Anez): Andrea talks to Mary via Skype, the crash of the taxi resonates again and again. The lights (designed by Jason Byron Teague), flicker and fade as people lose touch with each other, as Andrea loses sight of her own way.
The production is presented at the Fringe by Coyote REP, which also presented Caban’s NY Innovative Theatre Award-winning You Got Questions? I Got Answers!, another piece of documentary theater. Caban says after that piece, a friend’s mom pointed out to her that she hadn’t interviewed any women “of a certain age,” and Caban began to formulate the idea for this show (and was, of course, hit by a cab).
Questions My Mother Can’t Answer is playing at Fringe Venue #4, New York Theater Workshop’s 4th St. Theater, 83 E. 4th St. Remaining performances are: August 24th at 2pm; August 26 at 6:45pm, and August 27 at 9:15pm. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door. For tickets call 866/468-7619, or visit www.fringenyc.org.