God, Satan and Growing Up
In her one woman show "All Of My Stories Are True", Vanessa Paige Swanson humorously wades through heaven and hell on her way to understanding the world in all its irony, complexity and wonder.
By DONNA BOUTHILLIER
The lights at the Jose Quintero Theater come up on a Romanesque garden and the statuesque figure of Vanessa Paige Swanson, draped in a luxurious gown of green. She looks mythic. My mind quickly scans the pantheon of Greek goddesses. Which one is she? Or perhaps she is Isadora? Or Eve, facing a bushel of temptation as she takes her first step down a runway lined with apples. Whomever she is, this woman is regal, she is strong, she opens her mouth and out comes·the squeaky insecurity of a school girl singing songs to a God she doesn't quite get. Paige's "What God Really Wants" (a tryptich) fills the night with many delightful surprises.
This piece, laced with stories from her 1970's childhood, touches on the "big themes". From mixed marriages and the will of God, to sibling jealousies and the painful realization that boys are considered more valuable than girls (easily solved: simply convince younger brother that he is adopted and a girl, no problem), to the tyranny of the girlhood meany and her striving not to hate especially in a time when "the war was still on television". The relevant eeriness of the lyrics she sings: "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me", is offset by the wacky hilarity of the surrounding story she is praying fervently for forgiveness·to Michael Landon. Paige manages, throughout the night to be heartwrechingly touching in one moment and gut-splittingly goofy in the next.
|ALL OF MY STORIES ARE TRUE|
|Written, choreographed & performed by: Vanessa Paige Swanson Lighting design and technical direction by: Steve Mendes|
|Jose Quintero Theater|
534 West 42nd St. (btw. 10th & 11th Aves.)
March 3-14, 2003
Although her luscious lines are lovely to behold, Paige seems
confined by the space and perhaps by the structure of a "story section" then "dancing section". Her true power as a storyteller and as a mover is revealed when she is involved in a task. In "What God Really Wants," this means dealing with the apples. She gathers them, she nuzzles them, she releases them as a violent spray into the audience. I could have watched her smash those apples together for ages. Her words are well chosen, her dancing clean and lush, her songs sing clearly of girlhood innocence but the apple smashing that's where the juice is! And that's when we get a glimpse of a deeper and darker current than her anecdotes and songs belie.
In "Way Down in the Hole", with music by Tom Waits, her angelic silhouette is revealed to be a pair of garishly red wings. Her simple and unaffected performance in this piece is devastatingly funny and just plain devastating, in turns. She regales us about her high school health teacher's warnings against the "minions of Satan". (minions include: Jimmy Carter and Shaggy of Scooby Doo) As she ties strips of white fabric together, she dances and speaks with clarity and directness; her simple appeal "Why can't we just leave "evil" and "Satan" out of it?" is well placed.
"All Of My Stories Are True" is full of poignant images and hilarious anecdotes. With her infectious exuberance, Paige draws us into her world and shows us something about our own. I laughed aloud many times during the performance and many times later in the week as I re-told the stories to friends. Vanessa Paige Swanson's dynamism shines through most strongly when the volume is turned down a bit, as it is in "Way Down in the Hole" and also in "Feed the Birds" (a piece that explores the place of art in post 9/11 society). In these moments, and there are many throughout the night, the work rings true and the unique magic of this animated performer and smart writer leaves us tickled, touched and wanting more.
|MARCH 22, 2003|
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