By Austin Kaiser
DonnaD Lipari began “The Medium, the Music, and Me!” with a song called “The Medium’s Blues.” She wore a dress decorated with musical notes, sat at a piano, and belted. Let me share my favorite lyrics:
“I talk to the dead
Yeah, that’s what I said
I just hear a voice
I don’t have a choice
Don’t ask me who I see
You know I’m only human and I need privacy
I really want to serve you
I do my best
But tomorrow’s lotto numbers? Really?
I’m so tired of that test.”
This witty and self-aware song instantly endeared Ms. Lipari to me. It playfully and honestly shared the realities of being a medium. As someone who does not believe in mediums but finds them fascinating, I thought to myself, “Okay. I’m all ears. The benefit of the doubt is yours, DonnaD. Let’s talk about ghosts. Let’s talk about the difficulties of being a medium, of knowing too much and seeing things that cannot be unseen. Let’s talk about the pleasures of providing people with closure, and of passing love notes between realms. I’m ready to walk out of this performance empathetic towards mediums and what they do.”
In fact, the show focused predominantly on DonnaD’s early life, before she discovered her psychic powers. When DonnaD was a young girl, her mother withheld affection, and her father was not around. DonnaD wanted to become a singer, but had difficulty finding a teacher. At one point, her esophagus hemorrhaged. She did not get the medical attention she needed. Eventually, her voice healed and she was hired at a nursing home to sing for the residents.
Provocatively, after the charming opening song, the show did not really discuss what being a professional medium is like. There were no ghosts or eerie clients. There were no stories about DonnaD as a child with a hidden gift. There was no discussion of the afterlife. It wasn’t until the third or fourth scene of family history that it dawned on me that this was the heart of the play: DonnaD’s relationship with her parents, and her struggle to recover her singing voice.
The show continued to subvert expectations. DonnaD mentioned her imaginary friend Terry, who she was convinced was real, then never mentioned him again. DonnaD switched tenses mid-story (“I was…I am…you were”), obfuscating whether she was speaking about her present-day or childhood self. Clarity did not seem like a priority. But her performance was quite compelling. DonnaD was cheerful and comfortable on stage. It’s clear that she is a professional entertainer with poise and timing. She seemed totally connected to the energy of the audience. I also loved the music. DonnaD played several witty original songs on the piano. These were fun because she banged the keys and roused the crowd to applause.
DonnaD’s charismatic performance was a counterpoint to the tragedy in her life. She suffered a bad injury that could have been prevented if her mother had taken her to the hospital sooner. She was sexually assaulted when looking for work as a singer. It was revealed that her grandfather had sexually assaulted members of her family and other women in their neighborhood. Going to the police or looking up medical information seemed to be unavailable options. This story is a stark reminder of the toxicity and emotional repression that sadly exist in some family relationships.
When the show ended, the woman seated in front of me was crying. We spoke earlier, and she said that she was a friend of DonnaD’s. I asked her how she was feeling. “Sad,” she replied. “You think you really know someone…”
“The Medium…The Music…and ME!”
Written and Performed by DonnaD Lipari
Sept. 28 at 9pm, Sept. 29 at 4pm, Oct. 20 at 4pm, Oct. 28 at 7:30pm, Nov. 17 at 4pm
Director: Gary Gaccione
Consulting Editor & Script Supervisor: Dr. Sherry Radowitz
Technical Director: Darren Lipari
Production Assistant: Bruce Gotlieb
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
AUSTIN KAISER is a writer with an expertise in art and the creative process. His writing is about improving your imagination and exercising your empathy muscle. Kaiser is currently writing a book called, “100 Questions Every Artist Should Have The Answers To.” His other book, “How To Go Viral & Put Wings On Ideas: A Book For Content Creators & Young Artists,” explains how ideas travel and which ideas travel best. More at www.medium.com/@KaiserMane.