by Morgan Lindsey Tachco · May 27, 2014
Playwright and performer Michael Thomas Walker begins his story at his father’s funeral. Given the ‘facts’ he was told and after speaking with his relatives and his father’s friends, something about his death doesn’t add up. He makes it his mission to learn the truth, and seeks out stories from key figures in his father’s life in Huntsville, Alabama. Seeking truth about his father’s death becomes seeking a truth about his life, which invariably becomes more complex. Pieces fall into place, events from his childhood begin to make sense, and he ultimately finds the truth he was looking for. Lucky for us, Bubba is the result of this search.
In Bubba, there is nothing Walker doesn’t do wholeheartedly. In addition to exuding a charming, inquisitive and exciting spirit, Walker is also a fine actor. Fitting well into the category of ‘song and dance’ (er, maybe ‘song and movement,’) man, he guides us through this complex story simply, and with great humor. He seems to relish each moment of bringing this difficult story to the stage, taking the audience joyously along for the ride.
Told through song, narrative and the occasional movement piece, Bubba is beautifully directed by Melissa Firlit. Walker portrays multiple characters while situating himself perfectly in the story. Each eccentric family member and Huntsville persona is unique and lovingly portrayed. Even his father who was not, on paper, a very good man. I was so entertained by the show that it took me walking several blocks away from the theater to realize that he really wasn’t. Walker successfully imparted on the audience the terms he has come to with his father.
That’s not to say that this story is tied up in a neat, entertaining bow. “Truth is a funny thing.” Walker says. And it is: once found, the search for truth is over but the search for meaning begins. I left the theater wondering why it is that there are some people we know better in death than in life, and how different life would be if we asked more questions while they’re still with us. I was also left with this: “I was blessed with two good legs; I’m going to use them.” When you see it, you’ll understand.
As presented in the Planet Connections Theater Festivity, this production benefits the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention http://www.afsp.org/.
******************Maison des Reves is a one-person show written and performed by Talie Melnyk. It tells the true story of Madame Alexe Popova, a member of the aristocracy turned madame living in Samara, Russia at the turn of the twentieth century. After seeing her stepfather’s brutality toward her mother - he beat her ruthlessly, taking her spirit before her life - she comes to the conclusion that she must take matters into her own hands and poisons him. This sends her on a path of a vigilante serial killer, targeting misogynistic men. Popova teams up with Nastia, a successful prostitute, to be her partner in crime. They open a brothel (the only means of business ownership a woman could attain at the time), and call it Maison des Reves, or house of dreams. It becomes a place to lure abusers and rapists to meet their end, often relying on local women to put out a hit on their abusers.
Madame Alexe Popova’s story is fascinating, and I would love to see it told with more depth. The underlying thesis seems to rely too heavily on the shock value of a woman making these choices. Melnyk moves the story along through an unnamed narrator that sets each scene and introduces each character, thus not allowing the characters to entirely speak for themselves. It takes us out of the story, and makes it difficult to follow at times. I would love to see the relationships develop between the many characters introduced, but the character choices are such that, save the addition of a costume piece here and there, it can be confusing as to whom we’re listening to.
Maison des Reves is billed as the telling of a story of a woman who “fought the war on women in her own way,” and it’s hard not to be sympathetic to her cause. But even Popova herself could use more nuance. Is she motivated by rage, revenge, service to humanity? Is she a sociopath? All of the above? The compelling factor of characters such as these is in fact their humanity; what draws them to these actions. As an audience member, I want to be drawn in to the multitudes of perspectives that make up this evil – I want my moral compass to be challenged. Madame Alexe Popova was likely more than a good serial killer – for a girl. I think she’d want us to know that.
As presented in the Planet Connections Theater Festivity, proceeds from this production benefit RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. http://www.rainn.org/.