Monday, May 21, 2007

PLAY: "Peasant"

Susan Ferrara's one-woman show, Peasant, looks like what it is--a workshop presentation--but it sounds so good, that I can't wait for her to flesh it out a little more. The issue with Peasant is that it's dramatically poor, so Ferrara is forced to mine her various characters for personality over substance. She plays up the comedy and theatricality of morphing from one character to another, and boils entire characters down to their sweet mannerisms, as with her childish description of Dracula: "I like Dracula because. I like Dracula because. He's very tall. And he wears black. And a cape. And he can fly. And. I like Dracula."

The most substantial character is her grandmother, Assunta, who (with sisters Rosalia and Lucia) makes the trip from Italy to America during the first World War. In the present, Assunta is a charmingly persistent matriarch who scolds and clucks her way around the stage; in the past, she delivers a grievous and poetic litany: "War took everything. Even the color green. Nothing but brown in San Marco. Southern Italy. Just dirt and rock. You think God forget color." After they reach Virginia, things get even harsher. Susan's grandfather, Francesco, works in the mines until he becomes a version of Dracula himself (or Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man): "Day and night he work for years. Buried in dose mines. Til his skin was as smooth an' white as da coal was dark. You could see the blood move thru him. You could see his heart beat. Almost invisible, buried for years."

The title of the play comes from the ID badge pinned to the sisters upon arriving at Ellis Island ("Peasant"), and in its finest moments, the show is a warm reminder of our jumbled, collective pasts. The tried-and-true plot brings them from the Statue of Liberty to a sewing factory to a cramped tenement home, and it even throws in dramatic staples like a dead child. But the first-person narrative, the charm of Ferrara's telling, is what sells the story. With more work and a few props to take the burden off the strained scenes, Peasant will be very compelling. For now, you get the chance to see a raw story that's ambling, at a clipped pace, toward a deep meaning about where we all come from, and what we do when we get there.

No comments: