By Kia Standard
Seated on a bar stool on a bare stage, drink in hand, Tulis McCall is “At Your Service” in a wise‑cracking, truth‑telling Public Service Announcement about aging gracefully (well, hopefully). “You know you’re getting older when you look at old photos of your parents and think ‘Wow, they were young’; then you look at old photos of yourself and think the same thing…” she says. “I have my father’s nose. I have my mother’s lips – none.”
Ms. McCall takes us on a comical journey that reaches back to her childhood, then follows her up to present day. “You aren’t born; you’re evicted.” At age three, she looks around and realizes she is locked in a house with crazy people…her family. Then at four, after her mother overhears young Tulis talking to an imaginary friend in the backyard, she is “farmed out to nursery school.” That is where she gets her first lesson in non‑conformity when she meets a classmate who plays by his own rules and can laugh at himself. And she thinks, hey, I want some of that.
As Ms. McCall explains, life is a numbers game. When you’re younger, you don’t have a real concept of time – or of age, for that matter. On your earlier birthdays, you “turn” ten, eighteen, and twenty‑one. Then after thirty, “let the judging begin.” You “hit” forty, fifty, and sixty. You “reach” seventy. And if you’re lucky, you’ll “make it to” ninety. By those standards, at her current age of “three plus sixty‑six,” Ms. McCall is considered a “woman of a certain age.” Her main regret: “When did I start asking permission for my life?”
Ms. McCall does not need permission, or an introduction in the world of solo theater; she has been creating one‑woman shows for the past several years. She received the 2017 Best One‑Woman Show Award from United Solo for “All in Good Time,” the 2016 Best Stand‑Up Award for “Are You Serious?” and the 2015 Best Storytelling Script from United Solo for her show “All Aboard.” She is performing her latest offering, “At Your Service”—directed by Austin Pendleton—at Pangea’s Cabaret room in New York City’s East Village.
Ms. McCall’s story marches forward with a series of candid observations and funny anecdotes. These include her daily to‑do lists, which become longer when an illness begins taking up most of her energy. “Being sick is a time suck,” she says. Then there are the young grocery store clerks who call her “Dearie” and pretend to be helpful, when their real intention is to get her to move along faster. Somewhere along the way, she even stops looking at herself in the mirror, although she observes that her friends are getting older, grayer, heavier, and buying property in Florida.
Death seems to be the biggest elephant in the room. When Ms. McCall polled the audience to ask “Who thinks they’re going to die?” only a few audience members raised their hands. Then, when she asked “Who really believes they’re going to die?” the hands raised were fewer still. “At three, you can’t imagine growing up. When you get older, you can’t imagine shutting down.”
Tulis McCall’s storytelling is witty and irreverent; her delivery is like ripping off a Band‑Aid covering a vulnerable scar, and allowing the real healing to begin. It’s hard to avoid the truth when it stares back at you in the mirror; her advice is to stop avoiding mirrors and face the inevitable. One of the most touching moments in the show was when she unflinchingly faced herself in the mirror and spoke directly to her fears and shortcomings: “You said I wasn’t enough.”
Her other advice is to step outside of life, instead of following blindly along a given path; to “push yourself over the chasm so you can fly.” This wisdom came to her when she watched a flock of geese flying in a V‑formation. One of them darted away from the others to head in another direction.
Tulis McCall’s story is a great reminder of the illusion of time, and the limits we place on ourselves and others as we transition through our lives. The truth is we are all aging one moment at a time. The real question is how will we choose to spend those moments?
“At Your Service”
Written and performed by Tulis McCall
Directed by Austin Pendleton
March 12, 2019 at 7PM
Photo credit by Colman Domingo
178 2nd Ave
New York City
KIA STANDARD is a writer and musical theater performer, who has appeared in regional and international productions of “West Side Story,” “The King and I”, “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “Bubbling Brown Sugar.” She received an MA in Creative Writing/Nonfiction from The Johns Hopkins University, and has published articles and profiles for various talent magazines. Ms. Standard is currently working as a musical playwright.