“Bo-nita” Astounds in Denizen’s East Coast Premiere
There’s a strange young girl waiting on the bench and to bide her time, she makes faces, beats out a rhythm on her body to an unheard song, turns to us and tells an irresistibly captivating story of family life that alternately threatens, illuminates, provokes and entertains. The play “Bo-nita” by Elizabeth Heffron is having its regional premiere at DENIZEN Theatre in New Paltz. The one-woman play is being performed by Terri Weagant and it is hard to imagine a more consummate performance of this piece possible.
The story follows a 13-year-old girl who is waiting on a street corner bench who has a wild story to tell about what she sees in her home-life. Her ex-stepfather Gerard is in the middle of sexually assaulting her when she fights back and may have fatally injured him. Weagant hilariously plays the precocious and hysterically imaginative Bo-nita and her attacker Gerard, her mother Mona, Grandma Tiny and Leon or Leroy…her mother’s 47th suitor. The story touches on some very serious topics but filtered through this young girl who magically transforms the grim circumstances of her life with her imaginative telling and her story becomes a compulsively watchable and thrilling testament to keeping hope alive through storytelling.
The playwright Heffron creates some arresting images and circumstances like the picture of the unconscious attacker being dressed up in the grandma’s belly dancing costume (for emergencies) with fishnets. She has the character’s mother explain naming her daughter Bo-nita as she is pretty as a picture and neat as a pin. The hyphen represents hanging on and keeping things together. There is an extended metaphor about a fly being caught in the remnants of a bowl of Cap’n Crunch cereal, just the yellow, sweet, warm milk left behind. The fly would like to get out but its wings are wet and it can’t climb up the slippery walls. It just has to settle in and get used to its warm milk. That’s life.
Terri Weagant returns to DENIZEN after her performance there in “Every Brilliant Thing” last spring. I have seen that play many times including by the playwright, Jonny Donahoe and Weagant’s was my favorite. That solo show had Weagant playing a single character and recruiting the audience to play the rest of the created world with her. This time she is the world. She is so fearlessly physical, emotionally committed and creatively engaged with the story and the audience you will have a hard time recalling a more thoroughly compelling one-person show. I thought of Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg’s shows of the ‘80’s and they don’t come close to what Weagant achieves here. She is responsive to the audience, playing off one patron’s hysterical laughter at the thought of a naked white man being compared to an uncooked dinner roll. She is never manic, nor too precise in her gestures but can hold entire fast conversations with herself embodying three characters and you know exactly who is speaking when. There is a priceless sequence when a corpse is reanimated and becomes a talking backpack. Her physical life is a joy to behold from her first thigh drumming to the Blondie song “Dreaming” playing in her head to her portrayal of Gerard paddling an inner tube while pontificating on capitalism. Outstanding!
Director Summer Wallace has done a terrific job guiding this performance and using the small space to great effect. The show won a storytelling award at the NYC United Solo Festival and it is a perfect reason to make the trip to New Paltz for this enterprising new company doing remarkable, challenging engaging new work.
Through March 1