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BWW Review: Emerald Theatre's 1 IN 10 Proves Both Intimate and Universal

Just last weekend I saw one of Theatre Memphis' most outstanding musical productions, Stephen Sondheim's INTO THE WOODS. It had everything an audience would want: Wondrous sets and costumes, brilliant singers, imaginative staging. Then, this weekend, I wandered into the quiet intimacy of Emerald Theatre's 1 IN 10, a series of monologues by members of the LGBT community; and though the latter seemed on the surface to have nothing in common with the powerhouse production I saw last week (its set is, frankly, . . . naught), I found that, indeed, there was a shared thought and purpose. After all, the characters in the second act of the Sondheim musical have to assess themselves and their relationships to others; and they have to be comfortable with their lot and come to know themselves. You know what? That's exactly what happens during the course of the 1 IN 10 monologues.

Before the production even begins, a sense of easy intimacy is established with the transgendered Lisa Michaels, a native of California who happens actually to love Memphis and who has moved here to further a career in music. Michaels' introduction, comedic anecdotes punctuated with wistful and "laid back" songs, creates the perfect ambience for the segments that follow -- some, aching; some, achingly funny. The performers -- all earnest and talented -- take turns at providing glimpses within themselves, their initial awareness of their sexual preferences, their first sexual encounters, their acceptance (and lack of same) by family and friends, the burden of guilt they felt by not "fitting in" with their heterosexual counterparts, their fear of sharing their true selves with their parents (the Sondheim play takes us INTO THE WOODS, while this one ushers us "out of the closet"), and the ultimate "release" they find once they are unafraid to face their true selves.

Director Hal Harmon assures that all of this proceeds at a swift pace; and what he lacks in sets, he more than compensates for in imaginative touches. The rear screen offers insightful and often humorous backdrops (you'll even spot Nancy Kulp's "Jane Hathaway" from THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES) for the segments that unfold (and it's essential in some cases, especially those offering definitions and word phrases). I also appreciated the sincerity and range of the participants here -- Patrick Whitney (sporting a Monty Woolley-style beard) satirically holds tongue in cheek with the satiric "Breeders of the World," Leah Roberts struggles to become her true self in the self-assessing "Listen, Marissa,", Den Smith understandably spews bile in the raging "I Hate," and so forth. Lovely Sonya Lynn (stumbling into who she is in "I Didn't Mean for It to Happen," Stephanie Norwood (responsible for a couple of especially sharp bits), Kstar Kasey (a poignant "Your Loving Son" -- even some family will never accept their child's sexual preference), Hashim Dawson (frustrated at "Questions" coming from all directions), Annie Freres (boldly proclaiming bisexuality) -- all are committed, likable performers; and what they share is both revelatory and riveting.

In establishing these and other insights, these monologues range from the flippant and frivolous to the thoughtful and painful. Some of them are especially clever, such as "Candy Corn" and "Euphemisms" (with Ms. Norwood's professorial lecturer thoroughly examining the word "lesbian" and all of its variants); others, like THE BIG 6 0, are shattering and deeply infused with thought and feeling (might I say that Daniel Martine really delivers here: a powerfully affecting performance in what is likely the longest of the many monologues). In point of fact, these monologues not only ask us to stop and think (and to consider all the individual colors in that symbolic rainbow), but they also ask us to sit back and smile and laugh. There is no time for thumb-twiddling in a play like this: All the segments are well written and acted (Annie Freres, with that wonderful voice, even gets to sing a phrase or two), and the play moves at a very clipped pace. By the time Caroline Sposto wraps up the proceedings with her instructive and hilarious take on a Jewish mother whose three children have splintered every closet door on the premises, the audience has been encouraged to open its eyes and hearts and to appreciate qualities like honesty and acceptance. (By contrast, I kept thinking of the current antics surrounding the yahoo-like antics of the political debates; here, in this small theatre, these monologues reminded me of qualities to admire -- not to deplore -- about all people.) Through March 26.

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From This Author Joseph Baker

I received my Master of Arts Degree in English from Memphis State University and worked as an English instructor at Christian Brothers High School from (read more...)