‘Public’ with naked emotion

For all the laughter they eventually pry from within, embarrassing and traumatic experiences are typically left behind in childhood. Looking back is always an experience that is … interesting, but never one you would want to go through in front of people, in public, on stage.

Yet someone else’s stories still remain strangely seductive. Let’s face it — real life is better than anything TV melodramas ever came up with.

Taking material from its performers’ lives, “Going Public: True Stories You’re Glad Didn’t Happen to You” is a compilation of stories written and performed by Mattie Brickman DRA ’09, Lauren Feldman DRA ’08, Amy Herzog DRA ’07 and Matt Moses DRA ’09 and directed by Michael Walkup DRA ’09. Inspired by the autobiographical work of Broadway performer Lisa Kron, “Going Public” features a series of five playwrights’ animated, artistic, abbreviated articulations of the term “memoirs.”

The discontinuity of the recollections appears problematic until it becomes clear that it’s not about telling five stories, but more about telling one. “Going Public” is about honesty and revelation, achieved by briefly accessing various experiences that explore a range of human emotions, eliciting everything from laughter to anxiety to tears. Sharing in these deeply personal affairs, the audience discovers the message of the piece that beneath the surface of our differences, we all share something intrinsic.

An anecdotally-labeled framework highlights four, distinct tales — “Funny Story,” “Love Song in Two Voices,” “ ‘Drop Dead, Matthew Moses’ ” and “The Redundant Colon.” Highlighted by often raucous humor, the complexity of each piece develops through various dramatic techniques, most notably the cliffhangers that undermine apparently superficial presentations.

Each segment stands as a performance in itself, at once isolated and connected. The sparing use of props focuses attention on the individual, allowing the audience to directly and completely connect with the performer of the moment.

In “Funny Story,” Feldman demonstrates the subjective nature of what we might consider funny. It eventually becomes clear to the audience that funny, in this situation, is that “awkward” label applied to situations too discomfiting to honestly approach. “Funny Story” makes you laugh and think, exploring the vulnerability of an originally-“funny” character.

“Love Song in Two Voices” takes the theme of vulnerability to even more intense levels as a mother and daughter take the stage as one performer, distinguished from one another solely by lighting and stage positioning. Eventually, the two characters blur as emotions overtake the scene and the previously marked distinctions between them become less pronounced. The segment’s theme of journey echoes throughout the juxtaposed narratives that eventually merge into one. She shifts between dramatic pauses and cliffhangers to reveal the special relationship the two share. Although the revelations they reach remain obscure, the mother-daughter connection is apparent.

“The Redundant Colon” reinforces the theme of maternal connection when a special appearance by a second performer, Maggie Carney, reminds you of those days when Mom was overprotective, forcing you to wash your hands, for fear of … impetigo.

Impetigo: a contagious skin disease, especially of children, usually caused by streptococcal bacteria, marked by pustular eruption, particularly on the face. Interesting.

This segment presents the dynamic between a mother and a daughter who wishes to avoid becoming the image of her mother; by the end of the performance, even she comes to understand the futility of the struggle.

Struggles aren’t exactly futile for Moses in “‘Drop Dead, Matthew Moses.” In this humorous high-school memory, Moses breaks up with his first high-school girlfriend whose mother will not let go. As the audience laughs alongside the ridiculousness of adolescence, the strength of familial bonds emerges to complement the comic relief.

Together, more intimate emotions temper otherwise brazen displays as the audience relates to the experiences before them, almost helplessly. They are pulled into relation with lives they did not live, made to see things through the eyes of men and women of varied ages at various stages in their developments. With this approach, “Going Public” presents a range of human experience, but at the conclusion of each variation, demonstrates their commonalities.

“Going Public” takes the emotions and experiences that we all, on some level, share, and puts them on stage for commiseration. This is the heart of its appeal.

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