New Repertory Theatre’s Next Rep Festival features two remarkable one-man shows with little in common except for some joyous dancing, very tall puppet creations, and two disapproving fathers. That may seem like a lot to have in common but their approach and performance styles are wildly different.
Ibrahim Miari’s solo piece, IN BETWEEN (playing through April 20th), begins at the airport where a menacing Israeli security guard has pulled Miari aside because of his Moslem name or his appearance or the tags on his luggage or the contents of his luggage. It doesn’t matter: he’s half Jewish (on his mother’s side) and half Moslem (on his father’s) and destined always to be betwixt and between. He’s not “Arab” enough because he’s an Israeli citizen and not “Israeli” enough because he’s an “Arab,” he ironically jokes.
Miari plays all the roles with aplomb, from the nasty guard to his parents to himself. He moves easily among characters and situations, interweaving material interrupted by another scene or another thought. His impersonations (a rabbi, two grandmothers etc) are delightful and his genial comic approach to a serious matter is utterly charming—which is not to say he isn’t making a political statement. We’re well aware of his predicament, and that of a thousand others like him, who are targeted because of their name or their religion.
Aside from his expertise at storytelling, Miari sings and dances and caresses a drum so exquisitely that you wish the music hadn’t stopped so soon. He whirls about and you are swept up in his rapturous abandon.
SORTING OUT THE PAIN
Teen suicide is an epidemic. Someone’s child kills himself every five hours. James Fluhr offers up this statistic in his redemptive, very personal one man show called OUR LADY (playing through April 27th). Fluhr’s father has rejected him, he tells us, because he’s gay and because the father found photos of him on line, in drag, three years ago. (To be offended by cross dressing in this day and age! For heaven sakes, Milton Berle performed in drag on TV back in the fifties, but I digress.)
Of course, there are parents who, for whatever reason (usually religious), choose not to support their children and in Fluhr’s case, his father made it abundantly clear even when Fluhr was a child that he disapproved. Yet Fluhr holds out the hope that someday his father will attend one of his performances. He saves a seat for him at every show, so strong is their bond.
But Fluhr’s anger is just as strong: He recounts a fairy tale his mother told him as a child to comfort him, about a magical lady who rises from the ashes and triumphs over evil. He’s cast his father as the monster in this tale, taunting victims to self destruct. (The monster has an amplified, cinematic “horror” voice which creates a Grand Guignol feel to the piece.)
The fairy tale melds with Fluhr’s own life story as he tells us of a true love who killed himself to stop his pain. Fluhr creates moments which stand out in relief, like the image of him dancing and holding, protecting his true love’s lifeless body. Some of his imagery is lovely and some is graphic and disturbing, like the unseen monster forcing a gun into his mouth. Fluhr is certainly a master of imagery: I still remember his thrilling set design, a couple of years ago for an Athol Fugard play. Hundreds of bottles hung from an old house, like jewels to catch and refract the light.
Like Albin in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES and Prior Walter in ANGELS IN AMERICA, Fluhr sits in front of a mirror and transforms himself into a gorgeous woman who will strut about and lip sync (of course!) to Cher’s “Do you believe in Love?” and the Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men.” The audience cheers as Fluhr exorcises his demons in swift order. If only those children who committed suicide had theater to save them…or music….or art to ease their suffering. Fluhr proves without a doubt, with his performance, that art possesses the power to heal.