But we are all capable of rising to our own brand of greatness, with a not so magical formula—believing in ourselves and giving it our all. We have to bring the 'gifts' to the table. Too often, however, someone falls short of this mandate.
So, in my opinion, Rhodessa Jones' one woman show fell short. The title, "The Resurrection of SHE", single-handedly raised high my expectations. Even the dramatic opening—two men descending the center aisle at the Brava Theatre in San Francisco, solemnly bearing the effigy of a female body on a stretcher headed for the funeral pyre (a real spectacle in the truest theatrical sense of the word)—whetted the appetite for a transformative experience. It never happened. I sat throughout the show, front row center, unmoved, waiting for that magic moment. I stayed past the intermission because I assumed it would get better. Niet. There seemed to have been a lack of coherence and continuity and, in the end, I couldn't figure out what I was to take away from the experience.
Perhaps on some level I'm comparing apples and oranges (Coles and Jones) since the focus of their respective careers appear vastly different. But they both took it to the stage, the story of their respective lives. And perhaps there are those of you who would ask why I'm bringing up Ms. Jones' production now when her show ran several weeks ago. After all, her body of work off the stage will become an important legacy some day and she is, in her own right, a living local legend and hero.
I wanted to write about Ms. Jones' show back in April when I went to see "The Resurrection of SHE" and decided not to because... I wanted to address her failure to entertain and to inspire me—as I'm certain she must have done for others (a woman sitting next to me had returned from the night before, having driven all the way from Mill Valley, for a second helping)—but I found little point in writing about it if that was all I had to say. I saw no merit in just dissing a sister who does a lot of good for others.
Unfortunately, in my small idiosyncratic world of experiences, these two shows came close together in time. And the difference in how I felt when I left each was remarkable. As much as I felt disappointed by one's art I was just as delighted by the other's. These two factors—closeness in time and the vast difference in experiences—presented an opportunity to write a more balanced article. I left one feeling flat and irritated versus leaving the other energized and upbeat. Uninspired v. Inspired. Hence, carpe opportunitatem.
Back to "Oh, But Wait...". I laughed a lot—and I can assure you I don't laugh easily when someone is attempting to court my tickle bone—but I also listened. Ms. Coles' show kicked off the 2013 season of the Bay Area Black Comedy Competition and Festival. Her message (simplified): Discover your gifts and share them with the world. It's not original but I was receptive to it because she packaged it in a palatable presentation of her life that was engaging and entertaining. She told her audience that her gift is that she's a clown and can make people laugh. Along the personal journey she shared with us she was irreverent of some figures from her past and in awe of others who had come, gone and/or stayed in her life but not without changing it in significant ways.
Ms. Coles has an endearing charisma that took me pleasantly by surprise. Her show had a sophisticated zaniness, a lighthearted warmth, and a gentle honesty. It served up a weaving of memories that created a dynamic texture and flow. It was neither sugary nor overly dramatic, and did not dwell too long on any one subject matter—one major sign of a great stand-up comic. She'd hit it and move own, strategically planting punchlines artfully woven into the fabric. At times she was a high school cheerleader, a star-struck admirer, a rising star, a loving and proud daughter, a jobless comedian/actor looking for work, and a seven-month long listless, hopeless depressive who had lost her "funny", her "shine", who felt all used up, worthless, and ready to put an end to it on Mulholland Drive.
Not trusting that there is usually some meaning beyond ourselves when driven to do something, I often question why I write, why I want to finish my one woman show and the other play I've started and my book and the numerous short stories that beg for time to be written and the poems that crop up when least expected. I so often say to myself in the greatest impostor form that no one wants to hear what I have to say. Why would they? It's nothing new. It's all been said and done before.
Voice. That is what distinguishes one person's art from another's, along with one's unique set of life experiences. Voice. No two voices are alike, even when some do their best to imitate the voice of others. Voice. Every voice has its own unique blueprint. Depending on the medium in which the voice chooses to express itself, it is composed of a unique set of qualities and characteristics, whether through the visual arts, the performing arts, the fine arts, voice is an expression of tone, pace, rhythm, texture, dynamics, delivery, finish...because all of that and more make up the final product. But none of those is anything if the voice does not communicate that, if it does not inspire.
It's not that Ms. Coles' message is innovative; it was her blueprint for getting it out there, the one woman show being the medium. And it felt genuine, as though coming from a sincere place in her heart. If I can do this so can you, she was saying in her own words.
And now I'm wondering if Ms. Coles' and Ms. Jones' points of departure are so different after all. They both claim to help others by sharing their gifts—in this case on the theatrical stage—while being completely and unabashedly self-serving at the same time. No?
I rarely do standing ovations but I popped right out of my seat to join the audience in its energized appreciation of an innate talent whose light had heated up the room. When I left the Kaiser Center Theater, located at 300 Lakeside Drive in "Oaktown" CA, I did so with the feeling that something cathartic had taken place.