Bo-Nita by Elizabeth Heffron, Directed by Paul Budraitis, Seattle Rep through November 17
Let me be clear about this: I strongly support the presentation of original theater in this town. I'd much rather watch a new original production by a locally-working playwright, refined in-house, than the touring company of some road-tested, marketing secure presentation. And that WILL take you into risky waters, both for subject matter and presentation, and most of all into the deadly territory of the one-person play.
Ah, the one-person play. A single actor before you. It saves on cast and such complications like wardrobe or blocking, but for every K of D or Humor Abuse, you run the risk of a Thom Paine, a play that continues to rankle in my subconscious, much like "anything with puppets" rankles with the Lovely Bride.
And is Bo-Nita a K of D? No, but it is still pretty interesting.
Here's the short form: The entire play is a narration from Bo-Nita, 13, who is waiting for her mom after school. Bo-Nita is a bundle of anger and rationality and hormones, a precocious, self-aware, self-raised woman-child made old before her time, operating in the zone of that just-getting-by America with a scam-planning mom, a succession of her boyfriends, and a stoner grandma. And she is telling a story about the time she had to deal with the apparently dead body of her stepfather, which grows weirder and stranger with each looping scheme and flashback.
And I'm watching this all, and something tickles the back of my mind. Unreliable narrator, under-aged protagonist, predatory stepfather, heart attic. Mature, as they say, themes. Am I watching a presentation of Vladamir Nabokov's Lolita?
And I check on the Wiki after I get back home. [Note 1 - I have not read Lolita; a knowledgeable friend pointed me to the superior Pale Fire at the time. And Note 2 - Since I am not a libertarian Republican Senator, I can't quote Wikipedia directly as my own work] And yeah, that's a good summary. Heck, even the protagonist/play's name is a head-nod, fed through "The Banana Song". But it uses the bones of the Nabokov piece and dresses it up in a belly-dancing outfit, and ends up rich in both humor and pathos. It takes it in a different direction.
And Hannah Mootz, as our singular unreliable protagonist, plays 13 very well, aware of her world and still naive at the same time. She has to negotiate around some concepts with language that may be a little old for her, but acquits herself wonderfully.
There was a bit of technical sabotage in the sound system for our performance. In order to get across the idea of the setting, there is a radio playing in the background. The problem was that the radio noise was running too loud, and creating not the feeling of a shared space in which Bo-Nita is talking, but rather that someone left a radio on while setting up the other theater. Worse, when Bo-Nita went into flashbacks, the radio noise continued, which left me wondering if it was an error. I was not alone - one of the other patrons was asking around during the play about it, which set the performance back further.
That aside, how was it? Pretty good. Not at the top of one-person performances but hardly bad. It does need some more time to get the tech and language down (I was doing mental calculations about when the mom and grandmom would be born to get Bo-Nita to 13 in 2013, which is usually a troubling sign of engagement). But good marks for something original within the confines of the Rep.
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