by Amy Lee Pearsall · November 4, 2013
The 4th annual UNITED SOLO THEATRE FESTIVAL is at Theater Row on 42nd Street October 3 – November 24 with 121 productions. Indie Theater Artist Amy Lee Pearsall looks at How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gardai If you enjoy solo-performance, be certain to check out the fourth annual United Solo Theatre Festival. Running at Theatre Row on 42nd Street through November 24th, this year’s United Solo features over 120 short theatrical productions from around the world, many of which will only run once. Take a chance, pick a day, and take in some of the rich and varied offerings this delightful festival has to offer.
In How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gardai, Liliana Ashman’s one-woman show which appeared at this year’s United Solo festival, Ashman shares her story as an American detained by the Gardai – the Irish police force – during her attempts to reenter Ireland, where she is currently building a life. In her examination of labels, crossing borders, the threat of deportation, and what it means to be a woman without a country, there are seeds of promise in Ashman’s first work as a solo artist. That said, the piece would benefit from some additional excavation to allow those seeds to take root.
Ashman journeys to Ireland from her native New Mexico to study step dancing. In the process, she finds herself in a romantic relationship, and is drawn to make Ireland her new home. As a native New Mexican myself, I appreciated her attempt to draw some parallel between immigration here versus that of Ireland, and what it means to live on the border in the States, but she only touches upon these issues, leaving them largely unexamined.
She occasionally suggests other characters, but they are indicated by Ashman moving her body from side to side, rather than actually embodying another character. I was mystified why none of the Irish characters had Irish accents. Of equal mystery was why, out of the 40-minute piece, she only spent two minutes step dancing. When Ashman dances, everything about her comes alive, which is in stark contrast to most of her monologue. As directed by Amy Fox, Ashman falls to an awkward delivery of lines rather than building a conversation with the audience. A piece about her own personal experience would benefit from the latter.
Conspicuously absent from this piece is any love for the Gardai. If Ashman would like to keep the current title of her piece (which is admittedly pretty great), there needs to be some sense of growth, acceptance and catharsis by the end. As an audience member, I wanted to know more about what was at stake and why getting back into Ireland would be so important to her that she would fight back tears in the face of the Gardai. I wanted to see why this particular relationship might be worth fighting for (a segment where her hands speak to one another as dispassionate puppets to illustrate the nature of her relationship did nothing to support that argument). Mostly, I wanted to see the fire of Ashman’s dancing used as a narrative through-line.
It is possible that Ashman is too close to her fears in order to emotionally commit to the work at hand. She is worried about possible repercussions from the Gardai due to her creating this piece of theatre (again, there’s that disconnect from the title). “Borders cause conflict,” she wisely states, but in order to fully examine that on the stage, the writer and performer might benefit from turning the mirror upon herself to examine where she is currently stuck in transit. With some additional workshopping, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gardai could be truly transformative.