“Anita Luna: The Diva,” Should Shine Brighter Than It Does

Lead Article, Reviews

By Pat McAndrew
 
Anita Giovannini takes the audience on an interesting ride that, while amusing and entertaining at some moments, feels disjointed and disconnected at others.
 
When the lights first come up on Ms. Giovannini, we see her naked body lying on the ground, as she faces away from us. To the sounds of Italian opera, Ms. Giovannini slowly shifts her body, as if working her way through a tiny, imagined space. At the climax of the music, she revels in it and stands, completely exposed, facing the audience. This is a visceral moment that piqued my curiosity, and I wondered where this show would go. The dim, red lighting contributes to the mystery of the moment.
 
The show then makes a decisive shift. Ms. Giovannini dresses herself and draws a large smile on her face with lipstick, mimicking the Batman villain, the Joker. She does a brief choreographed dance, before telling us the story of a discovery she made at the beach when she was a young girl. She had identified with her father, and wanted to grow up to be just like him. At the beach, however, she saw a naked boy in a stroller, and realized that she was missing a certain body part found on boys but not girls. Ms. Giovannini enacted walking up to the boy and touching his privates, claiming that “he likes it.” We hear a little boy giggling, along with a sound effect as she pulls his privates forward and snaps them back. During this ostensibly comedic sketch, I could not get past the fact that this was an adult woman blithely talking about molestation. Although she means to portray her childhood self, this doesn’t come across well on stage.
 
The peculiarity does not end there. After this sketch, Ms. Giovannini dresses up like her father, painting a mustache on her face. She then does a choreographed dance to countless burp and fart sound effects that were mildly humorous at first, but unbearable after the first minute or two. I started to ask myself, “When will this end!?” I believe it was Ms. Giovannini’s intent to drag this out as long as possible, so as to make some sort of larger point. What that point is, I do not know.
 
Eventually, the burps and farts subside, and Ms. Giovannini dresses herself in a white gown. She tells us that the theatre began to speak to her: “My heart has always told me the theatre.” Although this statement comes out of left field, it is perhaps the piece’s first genuine moment.
 
Ms. Giovannini peppers a good deal of audience interaction throughout the piece. She eventually introduces her protagonist, “Anita Luna: The Diva,” and the Diva does not disappoint. She performs a gymnastics routine, a mentalist routine, and sings a jazzy song for us. While it seems like the show would conclude after her jazz number, Ms. Giovannini presses on. In her final segment, she asks the audience, “Who wants to live forever?”
 
There is no doubt that Ms. Giovannini has comedic chops. When her timing is right, she delights the audience. Her physicality and humor bring her various characters to life. But while the show shines with Ms. Giovannini as the performer, it falls flat with her as the writer. Although entertaining at moments, the show proves difficult to follow. There is a blurry trajectory, and any deeper meaning is lost among distractions. The show is overstimulating, and doesn’t give the audience a chance to breathe and fully retain information.
 
The sound design is incredible, and I wish it had been credited. Various songs and interludes give the show a dimensionality and provide a bridge, however wobbly, from one segment to the other. Ms. Giovannini’s sense of humor and charisma made this show at least somewhat enjoyable. Despite the disjointed script and confusing sketches, I was still invested and interested in what would happen next. With some textual and staging changes, I could see this piece coming alive and allowing “Anita Luna: The Diva” to shine like the star she is.

 
Anita Luna: The Diva
Written and Performed by Anita Giovannini
Co-written and Directed by Jango Edwards
November 11 at 7PM
Photo credit: courtesy of the production
2019 United Solo Theater Festival
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
 
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