As the second week of my Fringe was off and running, I encountered two very different shows on Monday, the 23rd that shocked my senses on different scales. First was Ah Kua Show, a solitary-seeming one-woman show performed by trans actress Leona Lo. Next was, The Momentum, a group-devised piece created by the company CollaborationTown.
Both shows serve as reminders of the various forms of theatre embraced by the Fringe – Lo’s show is performed in La Mama’s club space, a venue that could easily engender a cabaret feel to showcase a solo peformer or small group, while CollaborationTown’s piece demonstrated the advantages of working in – you guessed it – collaboration with other artists.
Ah Kua Show
by Leona Lo with input from Richard Chua, directed by Richard Chua
The Club @ La Mama
My first reaction after experiencing Leona Lo’s solo show Ah Kua Show was one of indecision. It was difficult, at first, to put the experience into words. Lo, it should be warned, is most definitely not an experienced actress. Her performance is, on the whole, clumsy, and only occasionally well-directed by Richard Chua, who’s also shaped the play itself.
Over the course of an hour, Lo takes on three similar personae in the Asian trans community. First, she’s a Thai “ladyboy” showgirl growing up and seeking a better life by following her boyfriend to America. Next, she plays herself – a transgender activist in Singapore running a PR company. Lastly, she embodies Chantel, a Malay transgender sex worker in New York.
The concept of the show is flawed in and of itself. Why, we’re left to wonder, has Lo chosen these three personae to inhabit? What is it about Lo as a performer that brings her to these subjects? Without some sort of cohesive narrative through line that we can tangibly track, it’s difficult to follow the trajectory of the show as a whole.
To be certain, Lo is physically stunning in a skin-baring, form-fitting outfit, but there’s work to be done to improve her stage presence and the fluidity of her physicality. She seems, many times, uncomfortable on-stage. When she breaks down toward the end of the show, we feel her break down, but, while Lo has learned to emote accordingly, she seems unable to translate that genuine emotion into a performance that fills the stage.
There’s clearly something powerful and important being said here about transgender rights. Anyone, no matter where they live, should be free to live free of discrimination, and Lo deserves immense credit for standing on-stage at the Fringe Festival and proudly baring a part of her soul. There are moments in the show that burst with real clarity, where the core of Lo’s show begins to present itself and we can glimpse its power.
Alas, these moments come and go too quickly, and what could have been a triumphant show seems somewhat self-pitying, as if it were easier to chronicle suffering than to boldly rise above the past and enact a better future. We hear about the discrimination she faced as she sought a job in her home country, but we never learn just how she made her own way and defied the oppression she experienced. Perhaps more importantly, we never learn what we as average citizens can do to support the trans cause.
Clearly, Leona Lo, a fascinating and promising talent, has a lot to say about her culture, her trans community, and herself. What we see in this year’s Ah Kua Show gives us a taste of what she has to offer, and, though her present show is less than perfect, it’s to be commended that Lo has made the transatlantic trip to share her story at the Fringe; one hopes that she returns in future years with a sharply honed new show to better showcase her gifts.
Bottom Line: SKIP IT, but it pains me to say so
Remaining Shows: WED 25 @ 4, THURS 26 @ 7
by Boo Killebrew, Geoffrey Decas O’Donnell, Jordan Seaey, and TJ Witham, directed by Lee Sunday Evans
The Robert Moss Theatre
Like a breath of fresh air, The Momentum emerged from my Fringe schedule as a reminder of the extraordinary work that can be achieved at the festival with next to no frills; in this case, all that’s on stage are three chairs and three performers in street clothes. And, really, the show would still be a success without the chairs.
The latest piece from CollaborationTown, a troupe of actors, writers, and directors who devise pieces, many of the inspired by literature and modern culture, The Momentum takes its inspiration from the teachings of the Jewish priest Ezra and, more noticeably and accessibly, from our culture’s obsession with self-help fads.
The piece, which was written by performers Boo Killebrew, Geoffrey Decas O’Donnell, and Jordan Seavey, alongside off-stage co-creator TJ Witham, is largely free-form. Beginning with a spectacularly funny, almost nonsensical monologue delivered by O’Donnell, The Momentum gains its momentum as it proceeds, picking up steam and gaining complexity as it races toward its conclusion, leaving an audience begging for more.
Monologues are interspersed with choric moments, wherein the performers speak mantras or convey larger themes. Also included are an almost Beckettian movement sequence involving the placement of (and enjoyment of) chairs and a number of other occasionally comedic group scenes in which the idea of momentum is demonstrated.
Beginning with O’Donnell’s opening monologue, the overarching theme of the play is introduced – namely the momentum of our lives and how we embrace and reject that momentum. As we move through our daily routines, O’Donnell tells us, we learn to “go with the flow, downstream,” interrupted by a variety of roadblocks. The rest of the play breaks down the platitudes inherent in our everyday lives. What’s at the core of the greeting card mantras we tell ourselves? How can we overcome pain? How do we make sense of our romantic and social failings?
While you couldn’t call The Momentum a conventional play, nor is it off-puttingly obtuse. Even at its most absurd moments, the humor and physicality of the group prevails. In a particularly telling sequence, our trio of actors repeat the phrase “Pain is a myth” whilst throwing balled pieces of paper at one another, each reacting with expressions of subtle pain. Not only is pain a myth; other things are myths, they proclaim. In fact, the company seems to suggest, anything can be made a myth if one tries hard enough to chant about it – or can it?
As the show nears its conclusion, each company member gets a short monologue segment to showcase his or her talents. Geoffrey Decas O’Donnell, Jordan Seavey, and Boo Killebrew (who has some of Amy Sedaris’s demeanor and natural comic timing) are all dynamic performers who have honed a particular aesthetic for this piece that works through and through, bolstered with fine support from director Lee Sunday Evans.
Each performer talks about a breakup or a moment of uncertainty – a moment in life when he or she felt inert and needed to move forward. The genius of these monologues is that each is formatted in the second person, the performers effectively narrating our experiences as audience members, immersing us in their experiences as if we’re living in the midst of their momentum until the performers and the audience are blurred and, perhaps for a moment, nearly inseparable.
The breakthrough of the piece comes as each realizes that inside that moment of profound stagnation is the here and now. The momentum is held within the present, be it forward-moving or not. “You are here,” the actors tell us just before the lights go down. And I was glad I was there to witness The Momentum, a show that expresses its central themes in fascinating ways – utilizing unexpected language and physicality as a means to a compelling end. Take my advice and see this show if you can: the “gaping, spinning hole of momentum” awaits.
Bottom Line: MUST SEE, especially if you’re broke and afraid of what the future holds
Remaining Shows: SAT 28 @ 9
For more information about the New York International Fringe Festival, visit fringenyc.org.