The SaraSolo Festival has built a small but loyal following over the past three years, but more consistency and fleshed-out productions are needed if the event is going to broaden the appeal of the one-person shows it presents.
Founders Ann Morrison and Blake Walton have picked a wide assortment of performers who use drama, humor or music to tell stories both real and imagined during the two-weekend event.
I missed the opening weekend, but saw seven of the 10 shows presented on the final weekend. A couple of them were fascinating and beautifully written and acted. But as in years past, I also was let down by some performers who clearly weren’t ready to present shows as finished products.
But there were some bright spots, including Heather Massie’s lively and enlightening “Hedy! The Life and Inventions of Hedy Lamarr,” which reveals that the popular actress was far more than one of Hollywood’s most beautiful women. She was also brilliant and inventive.
With composer George Anthiel, Lamarr developed a guidance system for torpedoes and gave the patent to the U.S. Navy during World War II. To her disappointment, the Navy didn’t use the technology until years later. Their system later became essential in the creation of wireless communication and the development of cellphones and GPS. With the turn of her head and the dropping of her voice, Massie plays all the characters, from studio heads to husbands in this engaging performance.
Adelaide Mestre also has a great story to tell in “Top Drawer: Dysfunction and Redemption From Park Avenue to Havana.” This open-hearted performer recalls important moments of her childhood years and the devastation of her parents' divorce (after her Cuban pianist father came out as gay). She interweaves them with pertinent songs and memories of a visit to Cuba to see the home where her father and grandparents once lived, and the piano he once played. It’s sweet and heartwarming, and she displays a pleasing voice in the snippets of songs she sings, accompanied by Doug Oberhamer, who provides a tender musical background throughout the story.
I also was kind of fascinated by Timothy McCown Reynolds’ performance in Kirkwood Bromley’s “Syndrome,” one of the few pieces written by someone other than the performer. He delivers an energetic and detailed performance as a man with Tourette's syndrome trying to cope with his condition and live his life. He can’t even bear to spend time with his parents. The play becomes more clinical than emotional as he details all the different physical and vocal tics that become a daily challenge, but Reynolds delivers a performance you’ll remember.
I’m not sure what to make of Stephen Powell’s “The Stopping Place,” about a man’s struggle to deal with incidents from his past (at least that’s what I suspect was happening), in a piece that needs more clarity in the storytelling.
Local actor Alan Brasington needs a stronger focus in “Words from the Heart,” a sequel of sorts to “The Poem of My Life,” which won him a lot of fans at last year’s festival. Once again, he intertwines stories from his childhood with snippets from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” But unlike the original, which told a story of how he became the man he is, the memories aren’t as keenly matched to the bits of “Alice” and they don’t lead you to the conclusion, a touching scene that comes out of nowhere.
Clara Francesca, who last year presented a sensitively realized look at Jenny Marx, the wife of Karl Marx, returns with a more personal story in “Becoming Mia Rose,” which she developed with writer Gaylene Carbis. It's about her relationship with her sister (I think) with influences of Marilyn Monroe. She’s an engaging performer, but little of what she was sharing made sense.
By the end of a long day, I was put off by comedian and actor Stephen K. Davis, who has a seemingly good idea for his show, “The Birth of Humor,” in which he tries to capture how tragedy and pain can be turned into comedy. But Davis clearly hadn’t worked out how to intersperse sad moments from his life — the death of his grandmother and his dog and the divorce of his parents — into jokes later in life. He relied on notes (to keep it fresh and alive), which destroyed any sense of spontaneity or preparation. I felt cheated but would still like to see what he might come up with if Davis further develops the show.