BWW Reviews: Seattle Rep's BO-NITA - Seven Characters in One Little Girl
No, it's not "Sybil", just one 13 year old girl with a lot to say about the crazy people in her life. That's the central premise for the World Premiere of Elizabeth Heffron's "Bo-Nita" currently playing at the Seattle Rep. And while the ending left me wanting a little, what comes before is a fascinating look at some very interesting characters all coming out of the mouth of one very gifted actress.
Bo-Nita (Hannah Mootz) may not be your average teen. She's had it a little harder than some, as she explains while waiting for her Mom to pick her up from school. She tells about her addicted Mother Mona, her abusive semi-ex Stepfather Gerard, Gerard's dangerous Uncle Jacques, her dead Grandma Tiny and Colonel T, her Mom's latest fling Leon, and one zany night in St. Louis when her Mom came home to find Bo-Nita beating the crap out of a dead Gerard. But she doesn't just tell the story; she relives it for us as she becomes each of these people with all their faults, voices and ticks so we can fully understand what kind of life she is dealing with.
With so many one-person shows, such as this, there is the risk of droning on. You not only need the right person performing the piece but also something engaging to say that has someplace to go. The Rep's previous productions of "An Iliad" or "I Am My Own Wife" or anything by Charlayne Woodard are prime examples of when this works brilliantly. Heffron and "Bo-Nita" try to get to that point but fall just a bit short. The story is more than entertaining and engaging (and at times darkly hilarious) but in order to completely work you need a strong ending and that's what was missing. Like those previously mentioned pieces, the good ones tend to loop back upon themselves amounting to a strong reveal or meaning and "Bo-Nita" doesn't quite get to that point but just kind of ends. It's more of a one-off slice out of this young girl's life and I was hoping for a bit more.
But whatever the faults the play itself may have, they do have an incredibly strong performer in the lead. Mootz not only manages the challenges of playing a teenager well (so many adults over do it) but she disappears into the various other roles she takes on. Male or female, old or young, she makes clear distinct choices for each so you always know who is speaking and what their intentions are. Plus, when you're the only one on stage for 90 minutes it can be tough to keep the audience interested and Mootz carries the show with seeming ease.
So the story may need a bit more refining to really pack a punch and get to the "why we're watching this" moment, but the performance is a stunner and crystal clear.
Photo credit: Nate Watters