By Alex Miller
Confronted with a subject as complex and multifaceted as “the mulatto,” the archaic term that describes a person who is the product of miscegenation, I went into this play with somewhat heightened expectations. And I was not disappointed.
The production opens to an old printed tablecloth shrouding a small round table. Photos enshrined in two small, circular frames show the protagonist’s parents, somewhat faded, as if reflecting their difficult lives. A nearby wicker chair fits right in with the period.
Bellina Logan (Detective Carla Dickey in “American Vandal”) emerges in a fuchsia blouse and black leggings. Her bouncy, curly hair boasts a distinctive silver streak through the middle, perfectly parting her dazzling locks into two equal halves. She begins, “My mother is a very, very white Englishwoman with blue eyes and blonde hair. And my father was a beautiful dark-skinned black man with gorgeous, gleaming white teeth. Imagine Maggie Smith getting together with Shaft.” Through their union they produced a tall, stunning, caramel-hued actress with the facial features of Elizabeth Mitchell from “Lost” and Maya Rudolph in her first season with “SNL.”
Vantile and Averil were quite the (secret) pair in the 60s. They had to be. As our narrator explains, “I was always someone else’s baby” in polite company. LA wasn’t as progressive as it has become, which is why upon Bellina’s birth, her father is told to “wait outside, we didn’t have any Negress children born today.” Vantile isn’t listening. “The hell you didn’t, damn it! I know my baby is in there.” After he is told that they only had an “Oriental” child born that morning, he pushes past and bursts through the doors because “that’s my baby!” Baby Bellina.
Averil, Bellina’s mother, is strong, willful, funny, and as whimsical as Julie Andrews’ Mary Poppins—a woman to whom she sounds remarkably similar. She’s a nearly-lifelong actress who has “been around the world, won numerous awards, and been married three times.” She is a drama queen, in every sense.
The family nanny, Betty, looks like Bette Davis. Her voice has that unique Julia Child quality, and is a blend of 20% Emma Thompson and 80% Monty Python. She sports that droll, irreverent, dark sense of humor the British are known for, and is so self-conscious about her teeth that she covers her mouth every time she speaks.
After Bellina’s mother and father separate, without ever having been married, Averil marries a man who abuses her. The almost instantaneous and whispered way she responds will define the next decade of their lives. Reaching for her young daughter’s hand, Averil says, “Come along, Bellina!” And with this, little Bellina and her two older sisters shove off to New York. Within five years, they’re back in LA again. And three years after that, they return to New York.
The drama, the moving, never stopping to take a breath; this is Averil’s life—though her two eldest daughters will soon leave for school, to begin their own adult lives.
There were many characters to keep track of, but Ms. Logan’s amazing ability to mimic nearly any accent truly made them distinct. Her dynamic switching from one accent to the next, the gestures, and her animated expressions were superb. Just as important were the subtleties, like when her mother adopts several feral cats immediately after Betty dies, in order to fill the void and finally become the “cat lady” she never knew she wanted to be. There is the calmness we recognize as despair. And Ms. Logan is a master at showing it to us.
Once Ms. Logan moves to Los Angeles full-time and starts her own family, she often has to rush back to New York as her mother’s health wanes. The audience is in awe of this Wonder Woman without a cape. Now a successful actress, she is afforded the opportunity to make the 3,000-mile trek often. The daughter that any mother could want is flawed, but there is nothing flawed about her duty to and love for her ailing mother.
I managed to withhold my tears through the second act. But as Averil loses her ability to remember, let alone speak, her own daughter’s name, my eyes overflowed. This masterwork is directed by the South African Obie Award-winning actress/director Maggie Soboil and is 80 minutes you’ll want to relive as soon as they’re over.
“CONFESSIONS OF A MULATTO LOVE CHILD”
Written and Performed by Bellina Logan
Oct. 3 at 3:30pm, Oct. 25 at 9pm, an extra show will be added soon!
Director: Maggie Soboil
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.