God’s Country – Airing Some Dirty Laundry
A REVIEW BY ACHILLES FEELS
God’s Country, a one-woman show presented by the nomadic Strand Theatre, gets to you right off the bat. Elena Kostakis, the Strand’s Managing Director, explains in her curtain speech that their company’s mission is to support new and emerging works of theatre by women. Choosing to present this piece by LOVE (aka Michelle Nelson, the playwright, as she refers to herself) is truly powerful and fully supports the many facets of diversity in the Strand’s mission. At the after-show talk-back session for God’s Country someone asked LOVE if this was a production about being a queer woman in today’s society. She beautifully responded:
“This is a piece about being a non ‘normal’ person in God’s eyes.”
LOVE has really done quite a bit for as young as she is. She writes constantly (this evening’s performance was chock-full of text), she has published a book, she is an advocate for equal rights, a photographer, musician, and a recipient of a Baker Artist b-grant award in 2011. Though this list of life accomplishments are long, it’s nowhere near as exhaustive as LOVE’s contributions to humanity, the arts, and culture in Baltimore and Washington DC are inspiring. God’s Country is part art, part spoken-word poetry, part song, part dance, and part autobiography. The work chronicles the lives and struggles of several personalities at an after-church Bible study group. LOVE, the only person on this tiny stage, plays 8 independent and fully realized characters. Each interacts, lives, and tells a story or two about struggling with their demons. Fittingly, the show was produced in Saint Marks church’s basement theatre. This location was the perfect setting for this piece of relevant social-change theatre. The folding chairs, the low drop ceiling, the rumbling sound of the refrigerator in the corner all added to the audience experience and the realism of the moment. It nodded to immersive theatre, perhaps unintentionally. The set that the performer used was not dressed nor built-out. Using some simple props LOVE conveyed her many characters effortlessly and beautifully.
LOVE opens the performance with lovely contemporary choreography (by Tracie Jiggetts) and simple, yet effective lighting (design by Brad Norris & Lana Riggins). She quickly changes character and we are introduced to the first personality: an overzealous preacher with a drinking problem. Her text is full of irony and hypocrisy. She has begun her whirlwind tour of ‘cray-’cray and grrl, I am hooked! LOVE transitions into several characters including a white redneck male, a husband on the down-low, an HIV positive teenaged mother, a blind gay male singer, and several more. Her use of simple iconic props is alluring and brilliant. At times, we even get a semi-autobiographical character of Michelle, which feels honest and true to LOVE’s own Id. LOVE mentioned in the talk-back that a juxtaposed amalgamation of Michelle and the overzealous preacher are most close to her own personality and approach to life.
During the talk-back, an audience member pointed out the error in the work’s subtitle indicating 9 on-stage personalities; in fact, there were only 8. LOVE brings to our attention that the last remaining character, totaling the 9 referenced in the subtitle, is us -the audience (okay, yeah, eye-roll). At first her response to this question seemed gimmicky, or unrealistic but the text in the work and the themes explored in her one woman show are universally understood and experienced by anybody who has felt like an outsider (okay, yeah, eye-roll redacted). I mean, who, at one time or another hasn’t felt shunned or isolated? Can I get an Amen?
The Bottom Line: God’s Country, LOVE’s one-woman show about the many personalities and demons a person encompasses, is beautifully written, wonderfully performed, and boldly themed. Her performance was seamless. The spoken-word text was, at times, difficult to understand due to the speed of delivery, but there were so many great takeaway lyrics and the singing voice of LOVE was so wonderful that it made it easy to simply sit back and listen. I really enjoyed this alternatively-styled piece. I think it is remarkable how many topics were covered in a single evening by a single, very talented, writer/performer. Put me down as in love with LOVE.
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