By Cynthia Darling
There’s a lot to look forward to in the United Solo Theatre Festival’s tenth anniversary season. One look at the lineup, and it’s easy to see why the festival has become New York’s most talked‑about solo theater event. Myriad characters and time periods come alive onstage, evoking storylines from a local and global perspective. The innovation of the artists consistently pushes audience expectations with new combinations of genres and techniques. Running September 19 through November 24, 2019 at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, New York City, the festival’s new season speaks to its commitment to the New York solo scene.
The sheer number of artists writing, indirectly or directly, about the role of women in society always serves as a significant aspect of United Solo. If there’s anything these shows have in common, it’s in portraying the multiplicity of voices and experiences of women. Such shows draw audiences in, and ensure that United Solo engages in important and vital dialogue with our present cultural moment. This year, All About Solo zeroes in on themes and motifs running through these shows to help you find your way at this year’s tenth annual United Solo Theatre Festival in the Best Of category.
1. “Moonage Daydream”
You can’t get more cosmic than coming of age with David Bowie as your “spirit guide.” Mary Monahan has played numerous roles on the stage and in film, and is a member of the Black Door Theatre Company. As a young girl growing up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, she turned not only to the music of David Bowie, but also to the musician himself as a source of guidance to help her survive suburban 1980s life. Thus, her solo show “Moonage Daydream” was born, named after the 1972 song on “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” The show is sure to deliver on inspiration, 1980s music, suburban angst, and one iconic rock star.
2. “Angry Conversations with God”
Comedian Susan Isaacs finds herself dumped, jobless and lost, and her usual relationship with God and Jesus will not help her. So, what does she do? She takes Jesus to therapy. Not just for the religious, the show has wide‑ranging appeal. Isaacs said, “I ask some significant religious questions, but you don’t have to be spiritual to ask yourself: What’s my purpose? What is my heart’s deepest longing? What do I do with tragedy? Well, in my case, middle‑class white girl’s tragedy.” A fresh take on God in modern life!
3. “The Medium…The Music…and Me!”
And, for a truly clairvoyant perspective, look no further than DonnaD Lipari, a well‑known psychic medium who has been giving private and group readings for twelve years. She was mentored for seven years by the famous British medium Robert Brown, before beginning her own healing work. As a medium, she is interested in sharing mediumship with her audiences. Her show, “The Medium…The Music…and Me!,” is her life story. Lipari notes, “I was told in my early 20s by a very famous medium that I would one day write the story of my life. Being 20 years old, I said…what life? Now…40 years later…I was ready to document the amazing journey I have personally lived and to share that.” The show also showcases Lipari’s talent with music, something she learned early on from her father, who was a lead vocalist in a big band.
Overcoming the Insurmountable
4. “Spectacular Falls”
Anita Hollander is not one to shy away from a challenge. A two‑time cancer survivor, Hollander lost her leg over forty years ago, and has made a successful career working throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States as an actress, singer, composer, lyricist, director, producer and teacher. Her comedic solo show, “Spectacular Falls,” captures the realities of navigating the world with only one leg. She is known for her previous one‑woman show, “Still Standing,” where, in one iconic moment, Hollander removed her prosthetic leg and slung it over her shoulder, continuing with her show. If such moments are any indication, Hollander will continue to wow audiences in “Spectacular Falls” with her unique approach to being, as she states, “just a banana peel away” from falling.
5. “Inconceivable: The Totally True One‑Woman Semi‑Fertile Quasi‑‘Musical’”
Back for another year, Meirav Zur exposes her struggles with infertility in “Inconceivable.” This show explores the rocky terrain and humorous moments of trying to conceive. For Zur, doing the show has been just as valuable as it may be for audiences: ”I’ve realized that so many women around the world experience infertility and its craziness, but rarely speak (or dare laugh) about it openly. So, they miss out on possible supportive connections to others around them. Until this show, I had missed these connections myself.” Zur uses improv, music and comedy to tell of her very real experiences that propelled her into the unexpected role of spokesperson for infertility.
6. “There’s an Accordion in My Closet”
As a speaker and musician, LynnMarie Hrovat tours and performs on stages around the world. She is a five‑time Grammy‑nominated polka musician. But Hrovat is no stranger to struggle. Through lots of music, love, and healing, her show, “There’s an Accordion in My Closet,” encompasses everything from raising a child with special needs, to being the adult child of an alcoholic, to coping with divorce.
7. “First By Faith: The Life Of Mary McLeod Bethune”
Written and performed by Richarda Abrams, “First By Faith” follows Mary McLeod Bethune, “an educator, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian, and civil rights activist.” A recent review in All About Solo evoked Bethune’s life: “Her journey began with her parents, slaves on a cotton plantation, and her 16 siblings. It ended with her being appointed the director of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s division of Negro Affairs for the National Youth Administration, and serving on his Black Cabinet.” In enacting Bethune’s life, Abrams observes, “I figured if she lived such a life, and many of the things she fought for mirror things we are actually re‑experiencing today, that at least I could use my craft to provide a platform for learning and personal growth.”
The Amusingly Absurd
8. “I Won’t Be In On Monday”
The title says it all. Including a pinch of rebellion as well as mystery, Anne Stockton dodges crime in the office, while keeping herself financially afloat and in love, in “I Won’t Be In On Monday.” For those eager to indulge in a little mayhem, Stockton’s show promises mischief‑and fun! Stockton’s writing and acting stems from unusual experience: her work as an Actor/Trainer with the NYPD’s Hostage Negotiation Team and Emergency Service Unit, and her experience doing psychiatric evaluations. The show was a selection for the Off the Wall’s This Fortnight is Female festival at Urban Stages in New York City in early 2018.
Described by Breakaway Daily as “bold, hilarious, and profoundly touching,” “Chocoholic” promises to mix the absurd with the deeply moving. Tasmanian actor Lilly Dennis is put on trial for her relationship with chocolate. As in all things addictive, it’s not really about the chocolate. Having been successful in both theater and film, Dennis returns to United Solo for her Best Of performance, sure to satisfy.
The Past is Always Present
10. “Almost 13”
“Almost 13,” written at the La MaMa playwriting symposium in Umbria, Italy, is Joan Kane’s attempt to look back at her life growing up in Brooklyn, and to emerge healed. Kane said, “‘Almost 13’ is my examination of violence and how it has changed my life. I believe we need to see stories that show it is possible to overcome brutality.” She details the role of her environment in shaping her identity: “I want the audience to step back in time with me to a place then called South Brooklyn, 5th Street at 5th Avenue. It is 1969 and the Vietnam War was raging. I lived through that era, but I did not come through unscathed. Tragic events broke parts of me in ways I could not understand at that time.” This tale of coming of age in New York’s past is sure to shed light on our beloved city.
11. “Move on the Cha‑Cha’s”
In “Move on the Cha-Cha’s,” Diane Ripstein looks back on her career in the world of performing and finds herself pulled increasingly back to the stage, where she was raised. As a child, Ripstein started taking ballet lessons at age five and continued to dance, touring across Canada and dancing on the Ed Sullivan Show while still a teenager. The characters and stories from this show are drawn from Ripstein’s own rich heritage. As Ripstein states, “Our intrepid host, The Bubbe, is based on my imagined Russian‑Rumanian female ancestors. She speaks her mind, and her secret to aging gracefully? Keep moving!”
12. “The Rude Awakening: Sex, Shame and Liberation”
Known for her award‑winning burlesque, Amber Topaz comes to United Solo to take on sex and all of its taboos in “The Rude Awakening.” From conception to hormonal disruptions, Topaz will examine the currents in her own life that have taken her on the journey from a young dancer practicing 19 hours a week to a world‑renowned burlesque performer. Her mission is to bring the hidden or unspoken aspects of female experience to the audience: onstage, she reenacts childbirth and even portrays a scene about masturbation from a dominatrix’s point of view. Topaz’s vocals and comedy will be highlighted throughout the show, as she covers a wide range of topics, all aimed at addressing and moving past shame.
13. “At Wit’s End: A Home for Retired Comics”
Nancy Redman’s new show evokes the world of the aging comic performer. She describes her motivations: “I love jokes, always have, always will. I hope to continue evolving my comedy writing from what it means to be human, from truthful situations, from the comedy in situations and characters.” Nancy will be in the Best Of category, honoring artists from the festival’s first decade. Michael Mraz called Redman “hilarious and intriguing to watch…she is just as fantastic an actor as she is a comedian.”
The 10th Annual United Solo Theatre Festival
Over 130 unique productions from six continents
Up to 5 shows daily
September 19 – November 24, 2019
Photo Selection: courtesy of United Solo
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
CYNTHIA DARLING is a writer and teacher living in Hell’s Kitchen. A writer for NAfME’s Teaching Music magazine for many years, she also wrote for New York Family magazine. She is currently working toward an MFA in Creative Writing with the Bluegrass Writers Studio. Her fiction and nonfiction appear in Louisiana Literature, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Wanderlust Journal.