By Mehr Gunawardena
“Inner Strength” was a performance soaking in pain, love, and resilience. Kyra Knox, the writer and performer, wrung out the life experiences of an aged woman. Her warm and comforting energy lit the stage on fire as she confided to us her darkest moments.
The woman tells us about her husband, William, and how “they did such a good job on him” at his funeral. “He just had a good spirit about him” and reminded her of her grandfather. Her grandfather constantly told her not to depend on anyone for anything, and that she needed to be a strong, independent woman. But her story didn’t follow that trajectory. Her grandfather was a generous man who “got through to so many kids,” and she wondered why he couldn’t get through to her.
At this point, Ms. Knox pulls off her wig as she dances, revealing a youthful version of her protagonist. We are taken back in time to see the character’s life and her journey. She grew up in a neighborhood that wasn’t the poorest or the richest, but seemed simply average. Behind closed doors, however, most of its residents used drugs. Knowing this, her family was particularly strict with her. She had to attend church every day, and she felt constrained. As a result, she acquired the reputation of “a rich light‑skinned girl who thought she was all that.” This made her want to retaliate. She wanted to prove the other kids wrong, that she could have fun, and that she didn’t think of herself as any better than anyone else.
One day, a “six‑foot milk‑chocolate man” approached her. His name was Isaac. He was her first love, and represented a lot of her firsts. Isaac made her “rebel against everything [she] was taught to do.” Their relationship started out as teenage fun, but it turned into something much darker. She recalls the first time he hit her; “I felt my soul leave my body.” He promised that he would never do that again, but abusers don’t stop abusing simply because they are asked. He kept hurting her. She said that she “was too tired, [she] would let him beat [her] ass ‘til he got it out of his system.” He introduced her to alcohol and drugs, and to escape the torment he put her in, she became an addict. Isaac left her for a “white woman” and said to her, “who would want to marry a crackhead?” At that point, they had spent about 10 years together. She wasn’t talking to her family; she was alone.
This made her sink deeper into her addiction, until she stumbled into a party where she met William. She was high out of her mind, and looked an absolute mess. William took her to his home and cared for her. “This kind man bathed me…This angel of a man, he helped me get clean.” She wanted to earn her keep, as her grandfather told her not to depend on anyone. She slowly learned how to cook, and bought groceries and made dinner for the two of them. Over time, they fell in love. He gave her the courage to see her family and rebuild a relationship with them. They supported each other, and she became sober.
Unfortunately, this did not last. She and William expected a baby. They were going to name her Sara, but she had a miscarriage. When this happened, she thought that God was punishing her for all the wrong that she had done in her life, for the five abortions she had had with Isaac. She could not let go of this grief, and of the guilt of losing Sara. Ms. Knox performed this scene with so much raw authentic emotion, it was difficult not to let tears stream down my face. The woman fell into a deep depression that forced her to isolate herself from those who loved her. She went to bars, but didn’t drink anything until she saw Isaac one night. He made her have a drink. Her life once again spiraled after that. She gave in to her addiction. William tried to help, but after a few times of seeing her high, he left. She was alone, again.
Time passed as she lived her drug‑induced lifestyle, filthy and unkempt. She received news that her cousin had died. Her best friend—her closest friend, to whom she had made a promise—had died. They had promised each other to care for each other’s children, if anything were to happen to either of them. Her cousin had a baby girl who was being sent into foster care. She could not let this happen. She needed something to live for, and this baby was just that. She went to rehab, proving to her family and William that she was stable and responsible enough for this child. William came back to her. She finally accepted that Sara’s death was not her fault. And she was “finally in a good place.”
Ms. Knox returns to her character as an elderly woman, and reflects on her past. She believes that her grandfather is proud of her now, and she wishes she had listened to her elders. Ms. Knox gives an exceptionally powerful performance about the inner strength of a woman. She rips back the layers of experience to expose us to the truth of life—it is hard, and at times ugly, but we all have the strength to persevere.
Written and Performed by Kyra Knox
Nov. 9 at 7:30pm
Show image by Ja’Nell Hall‑Ragin
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
MEHR GUNAWARDENA is a writer from Sri Lanka who pursued her education and ambition in the United States. During her time at Clark University, she began experimenting with form and structure to make her writing as accessible as possible to all readers, while keeping true to her voice. She enjoys writing poetry and other fictional pieces with political and societal nuances, and is therefore drawn towards art with similar intentions.