by Ed Malin · September 27, 2015
This year’s United Solo Festival continues to offer the world’s largest assembly of one-person shows. Director Joan Kane and Ego Actus present their second show of the festival, Louise in Charlestown by Penny Jackson, performed by Mary Monahan.
For the avoidance of doubt, Charlestown is that once-quiet Irish neighborhood on the edge of Boston. Whatever accents or personas the story requires, Mary Monahan can be counted on to create them.
The tale brings us back to 1983, where Patricia Doyle, youngest of an Irish-American family and the only one born in the USA, slowly learns what’s wrong with everyone around her. The tight-knit community has three Catholic schools (the public schools are where girls get pregnant, so they say) and also has two other girls named Patricia Doyle. No matter; our Patricia is determined to see the world on her own terms and to think for herself. While her Irish relatives watch “American Football” games to blend in, and openly criticize other ethnic groups who want to live in the community, Patricia befriends the titular character Louise, daughter of the only Jamaican family bold enough to move into the neighborhood. For the avoidance of doubt, Louise is not from Jamaica Plain but from the Caribbean island of Jamaica; the entrenched recent arrivals from Ireland would strongly prefer that people with Louise’s skin color stay in Roxbury. Louise teaches Patricia about everything from karate films (even acting out the moves in the theater) to sex with her boyfriend (it was quick, like sneezing). These facets of the larger world can be experienced just a short “T” ride away in Cambridge, but the average folk of Charlestown are not ready to expand their horizons. Any challenge to their beliefs, even from the new priest, warrants a beat-down. Tenderly, in the past tense, Patricia describes what happened to Louise’s family and why she and Louise did not continue to grow up together. If this doesn’t make you mad, I don’t know what will.
The writing is quite compelling and the fine direction channels a whole, crazy neighborhood through one actress dressed as an unassuming schoolgirl. You never know someone until you get to know them, right?
At a time when some Americans still think Barack Obama is a foreigner and millions of Syrian refugees need our help, I’m very glad to have spent some time with Patricia and Louise.