By Alex Miller
Once red and blue lights illuminate the stage, we see baby‑sized mattresses stacked three feet high. Motivational speaker and TV/radio host Theresa Puskar appears in a glorious white, flowing Indian “kurta,” cooing at the baby whose cries she will soon calm. The soothing music reminds me of lullabies I myself have heard in my crib, a mobile dancing above my head. Ms. Puskar says, “Breast feeding, the elemental connection between mother and child, is a bond that will last for many years to come.” Then: “Fast‑forward ten years.”
Instantly we are transported to a time when she attempts to hide her sadness and put on a happy face for her daughter. “What’s the matter, Mommy?” The little girl admits that she knows something is wrong, and has been for a while. The scene is moving. We have all seen a loved one pretend to be fine when they are not. Ms. Puskar says, “It’s fine, honey. I’ve got to make some changes. Go on, catch up with your friend, Katie. She’s waiting.” Ms. Puskar embarks on a journey to find herself in the midst of chaos, and conveys a universal lesson from which we can all benefit.
She travels to India, and experiences a major culture clash. Bicyclists surround her. Homeless people sleep under bridges. Barefoot street vendors sell flowers and sweets. She has a moment of realization we have all felt at one time or another: so many have it so much worse than we do. Her journey brings her to a university dormitory where she shares a room with ladies who bicker about nearly everything, including the thermostat setting. But Ms. Puskar finally feels peace during meditation at a temple. That is what she came to India to experience. All the while, she speaks with fairytale characters who act as foils to her own shortcomings and misgivings, much like the three apparitions who visited Scrooge.
I’ve seen this before: fairytale characters telling “true” versions of their “life stories” for comedic effect. Rapunzel, Cinderella, Belle, and the princess from “The Princess and the Pea” (all of whom have authentic accents from their countries of origin) have humorous spins on their classic tales. There is not much surprise there. After Rapunzel expresses her desire to be free of the Prince who was supposed to be her savior, I could pretty much guess the grievances of the other princesses, and their dissatisfaction with their happily‑ever‑after endings.
The true beauty of the play is in Ms. Puskar’s journey from her stressful but privileged world to a land of far greater problems. I would compare her story to a stage adaptation of “Eat, Pray, Love” performed at a Tony Robbins convention. Ms. Puskar’s impressive acting skills and respect for other cultures balance out this somewhat preachy travelogue.
“Beauty, Bollywood and Beyond”
Written and Performed by Theresa Puskar
Oct. 26 at 7:30pm
Director: Heather Bodie
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
ALEX MILLER, a Chicago native, has been a professional writer and editor for 6 years. He joined the Navy in 2004, and served for four years in such places as Haiti, Iraq, and Somalia. He has a degree in Public Engagement from The New School, and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Forbes, The New York Daily News, and QZ, among others. He lives in Harlem.