Tuesday, November 15, 2016

"FIVE" by 20% Theatre Company at Dreamland Arts

One of the things I most admire in theater is artists who tell their own very personal and often difficult story through their work. I find it incredibly brave to expose your life, heart, soul, heartaches, and triumphs on stage in front of a bunch of strangers, and this sharing of truth often results in the most affecting theater. The audience can sense the realness and the raw emotion they're witnessing. Such is the case with 20% Theatre Company's new work FIVE, written by Claire Avitabile. Claire is the founder and Artistic Director of 20% Theatre, named after a 2002 study which found that 20% of professional theater artists are women. 20% Theatre is "committed to supporting and vigorously promoting the work of female and transgender theater artists, and celebrating the unique contribution of these artists to social justice and human rights," work that is perhaps more important now than it ever has been in the company's 10-year history. FIVE is one person's specific story of overcoming childhood trauma, universal in its themes of loss, search for identity, and healing.

I had a relatively normal and happy childhood, with almost exclusively pleasant memories. But what happens when your memories of birthday parties and childhood games are intermingled with memories of abandonment, drug abuse, and loss? FIVE answers that question as a collection of memories that play out in their mix of pain and joy, brought to life by the five-person cast on a bare stage in the intimate space of Dreamland Arts. Briana Patnode is the narrator (playwright), telling her story, with Beckett Love, Kathryn Fumie, Meagan Kedrowski, and Pearl Noonan as the acting company alternately playing the main character and all of the other characters in the memories. Scenes, musings, movement, and sound all combine to paint a portrait of a lifelong struggle for balance, identity, and self worth. A struggle that we can all relate to in some way.

The movement, and the piece as a whole, were created by the playwright, co-director Shalee Coleman, and the ensemble, all of whom give wonderfully real performances. I love the movement that doesn't directly say anything but adds to the emotion of the piece. It may sound strange, but the hoodie (which all of the actors wear) as an analogy of what you wear as protection, and what you shed to find freedom, is really lovely.

FIVE is poignant and moving, painful and beautiful. I find myself without a lot of words to say about it, because the effect of it is really beyond words. If you're interested in seeing truth in theater, in all its pain and beauty, check out FIVE before it closes on November 20.