By Alex Miller
Life comes at you fast, and sometimes blindsiding is the only way to describe when it hits you, like a subscription to “Bad News Daily.” Although Jeannette Rizzi’s story has tragedy interwoven in its fabric, “Blindsided” is about the unburdening of burdens. Ms. Rizzi’s play delivers above and beyond what should reasonably be expected of a production this size. She’s just one person with a chair and a bottle of water.
The play begins with The Temptations’ “The Way You Do the Things You Do” softly thumping through the speakers. Ms. Rizzi wears a pink sweater, blue jeans, and brown boots. She only rarely drops her smile. But it doesn’t come off as fake‑on the contrary, her charm seems authentic, accessible and relatable. You would know someone like her.
Ms. Rizzi informs the audience that her parents were quite the unique pair: a former nun and a former monk who “did the Holy Nasty.” Originally from Brooklyn, the couple left the big city to move to Alachua, Florida. A city she ensures us “is a real place, with one stoplight, and cows.”
We are dragged into a world we try to forget still exists: rural, racist America. Because of her Italian heritage and hue, people made several mistakes assuming she is part white and part black. “Are you one of them Milanos?” “Hey, macchiato!” “Are you here with that mojito?” All of them horribly losing at the game of racism by failing to use the epithet “mulatto.” This is a town you would have caught on several episodes of “Cops” in the 90s.
But young Jeannette loves Cher and sings to cows, her only audience in those early years. She dreams of being famous, and she never fails to demonstrate why she deserves it.
Her mother, the former nun, is as soft‑spoken as a mouse waiting in line for confession. Her favorite catchphrase is “God wouldn’t like that.”
Her Italian, Brooklyn‑born grandmother is sassy, foul‑mouthed, and absolutely enchanting. A scene in which Grandma recalls how a man tried to look up her sister’s skirt‑she “smacked him with my handbag and told him to keep his goddamn paws to himself”‑ends with a cow licking the window and Grandma exclaiming, “What the fuck was that?” The story produced one of the most uproarious laughs I’ve ever heard in a theater.
The characters we’re introduced to next will have everlasting impact on our heroine’s life. Tibbs (her racist boyfriend, who ironically was named after Sidney Poitier’s Virgil Tibbs from “In the Heat of the Night”) is a jerk whom Jeannette’s grandmother calls “tits” in that stern, thick Brooklyn accent that lets you know she thinks the guy is hot garbage. Katie is Jeannette’s best friend and constant source of support and guidance through her high school years. And Frank is a kid who had an undying love for Katie. Both of them will be dead of suicide within a year of each other.
Jeannette’s world is torn apart by the suicides. Around that time, she gets a dachshund named Flash. She pretends that the dog speaks to her in an adorable little kiddie voice. Grandma meets him not long before she dies.
After Jeannette, and Flash, decide to leave Florida and move to California‑where dreams come true‑and after a series of boyfriends with nicknames like Houdini, Hemorrhoid, and No Balls, she finally finds love. A love that produced twins earlier this year.
I must say, there’s something so rare in this performance: the level of connection made with the audience. Our star speaks to us as if we’re old friends and she’s just catching us up on the past twenty years since high school. Almost immediately, Ms. Rizzi endears herself to the audience. Her acting chops and storytelling abilities speak for themselves. “Blindsided” gives us all a look at ourselves, the mirror to face tragedy and misfortune, and asks us what we should do with it. That is a question only you, the viewer, have the power to answer. And that means you must see this show. Tell her what you’ve decided.
Written and Performed by Jeannette Rizzi
October 22 at 9 PM
Photo: courtesy of the production
2019 United Solo Theatre Festival
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
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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.