By Christopher Popple
In “Crooked Shadows,” Shawneen Rowe takes full advantage of the intimate and unfiltered solo form, telling a story that only she knows how to. She invites us to listen to the story of her Grandma Rosa in her mock living room with fittingly rose-themed furniture.
Ms. Rowe grins ear to ear as she describes her old family rituals and tells corny jokes like a mother from a sitcom. One ritual involved Ms. Rowe’s late grandmother, Grandma Rosa. After dinner, Grandma Rosa would always move to her armchair, and tell her granddaughter stories of her own childhood.
As a child, Grandma Rosa had her own rituals. When Rosa’s father came home from work, he would sit in his armchair and she would sit in his lap. They would make funny noises together until Rosa’s mother shouted at them to quit fooling around and come to dinner. One night, however, Rosa’s father didn’t come home. An abusive stepfather eventually filled the void he left behind. Rosa’s life changed for the worse. She was forced to work to support her family, while her stepfather did little except assert himself as the man of the house. Rosa worked herself to the bone, until her stepfather found an excuse to kick her out: he accused her of touching his window shades and leaving them crooked.
Themes of identity are core to Grandma Rosa’s story. Rosa’s sense of self was obfuscated by the label of “puttana” (meaning “whore” in Italian), as her stepfather called her. She spent most of her youth abiding by his rules, and she didn’t break free of that relationship unscathed. When Rosa was kicked out of the house and ostracized by her community, she admitted to not knowing who she really was. Even Rosa’s mother had lost much of herself, trying to keep in line with her husband’s rules. It’s telling that Rosa’s mother is described so vividly when her first husband is still alive, yet is barely mentioned again after the stepfather enters the scene.
The crooked shades are a symbol of how daily aggression can accumulate into lasting scars. As Ms. Rowe puts it, “It’s not about the shade – it’s about the shadow.” Her performance perfectly captures the idea of a looming shadow sucking the color from her grandmother’s life. Her bubbly performance becomes more depressing, as the bright lights above her dim to become as dark as her circumstances. Rosa’s frustration culminates in an emotional soliloquy, and the anger in Ms. Rowe’s voice sends shockwaves.
Ms. Rowe’s respect and love for her grandmother is woven into every aspect of “Crooked Shadows,” from the performance to the imagery to the earnest nature of her dialogue. Evocative storytelling evidently was a formative part of her upbringing. Although “Crooked Shadows” takes some time to find its footing, it’s a heartfelt story, and its sincerity leaves an impression.
Written and Performed by Shawneen Rowe
October 6 at 6 PM
Photo credit: courtesy of the production
2019 United Solo Theater Festival
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
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CHRISTOPHER POPPLE is an aspiring writer living in New Jersey. He graduated Monmouth University with a degree in English with a Concentration in Creative Writing. Alongside his career and collaboration with All About Solo, he works on various writing projects in his free time.