By Nadia Asencio
Ananda Bena‑Weber’s “Fancifool” is a powerhouse. Dedicated to “all the beautiful souls” she’s encountered on the streets of New York City, the show features Ms. Bena‑Weber portraying characters that ring true and clearly, idiosyncrasies and all. In a city so interesting and lively, it’s easy for a performer to slip into caricature when attempting to cover so much diversity. But Ms. Bena‑Weber delivers, and brilliantly so, embodying each personality with a fierceness borne of true appreciation.
“Fancifool” is long—two hours of monologues and an intermission—so, for the sake of brevity, I will stick to its most memorable personalities. Their narratives are raw; between bouts of laughter, the pain of each character’s experience is felt. Although tragedies can be survived, scars remain. They may not be nice to look at, but Ms. Weber fearlessly attests they are real, and deserve to be seen and heard.
In a scene titled “Noses, Fetishes, and Other Stories,” Franz, a gay Holocaust survivor, challenges the taboos surrounding fetishes while donning women’s pumps, deriving a life‑affirming lesson from horrors he’d experienced in World War II. In “On Streets, Seats, and Subway Cars,” Sam, an eccentric down‑and‑out ex‑graffiti artist, laments the passing of the 70s and 80s, when art was appreciated and the city had a soul. As he compares his memories to the antiseptic, corporate‑run metropolis New York has become, it’s impossible to disagree. Both characterizations are radiant in their own way, and for different reasons. But the most striking one by far was “Jim the Janitor Talks Life and Love.” Ms. Bena‑Weber fully fleshes out this old‑timer Brooklynite who, like Sam, romanticizes life “back in the day,” waxing poetic about the need for human connection and mourning contemporary society’s lack of love.
Some of the monologues—such as that of an “ethno‑botanist” struggling to explain the correlation between pollination, depression, and the healing properties of love (“A Scientific Tidbit of Sciency Science”) and an all‑too‑familiar scene of a woman on the phone navigating an automated system (“Is Anyone Out There?”) — did seem winding and superfluous. Others‑such as the lengthy dance numbers (“Cyrano Suite,” “He Loves and She Loves”) and JoAnn Sieburg‑Baker’s filmed inserts of Ms. Bena‑Weber stoically walking through city throngs (“The Journey, And Beyond”) — impeded the play’s flow. While it’s obvious that Ms. Bena‑Weber can dance, mime, and schtick with the best of them, sometimes too much is, well…too much.
Ms. Bena‑Weber has the natural ability to portray a variety of colorful characters or none at all, emptying her face and body of expression, and becoming a mirror of those around her. There is no disputing that she gives a star performance in “Fancifool.” But director Rosine Bena may consider editing the work down to one hour, including a dance sequence and perhaps using the short films as a backdrop to the best monologues, instead of as fillers during multiple backstage wardrobe changes. It was as though “Fancifool” attempted to demonstrate all of Ms. Bena‑Weber’s talents in one show. There is no need; she has the energy and charisma to keep audiences coming back for more.
Written and Performed by Ananda Bena‑Weber
Oct. 21 at 6pm
Director: Rosine Bena
Filmmaker: JoAnn Sieburg‑Baker
Show Image by JoAnn Sieburg‑Baker
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
NADIA ASENCIO is a first-generation Cuban American playwright, artist, and founder of The Scarlet Harlot Theatre Co. which chronicles the journeys of Hispanic and Black women. Her work can be found at www.nadiaasencio.com. She resides in NYC.