Teresa Willis. Photo-Maia Rosenfeld.
Written and performed by Teresa Willis
Directed by Jennifer Pennington
Presented as a part of the SLANT Culture Theatre Festival
Reviewed by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
One-person shows can strike fear into the hearts of theatregoers. The opportunity for narcissistic self-indulgence can lead to insufferable, self-congratulatory challenges to an audience’s forbearance.
Teresa Willis’s Eenie Meanie is, among other things, a case study in avoiding such pitfalls. An autobiographical journey that effectively traverses her entire life, Willis assiduously turns personal experience into a mirror on society, using a first-person narrative to mine understanding of societal changes with searing insight filtered through nostalgic humor.
Her primary theme is racism. Beginning with her first childhood experience with a black person, a friendly piano turner in her Valley Station home, through schoolyard confrontations (the title derives from the iconic childhood picking rhyme, eenie ,meenie, miny, moe, catch a n***er by his toe) and on into adult relationships with men and women of color. Her observations along the way are honest and bracing snapshots illustrating that tolerance is a lesson that must be continually relearned and that complacency is the best friend of bigotry. A self-described “civil rights kid,” Willis is entirely candid about her own changing attitudes and presents them in a virtuoso performance of forthright skill and charm that engages the audience in recognizing hard truths. Carefully chosen props and projections provide detail and context, but this is Willis’s show all the way. Director Jennifer Pennington’s contribution may be significant. But it is the nature of a solo show like this that, if successful, it plays entirely as a deeply personal testimony between performer and audience. On this score, we must count Eenie Meanie a triumph.
That the journey ends in the “Here and Now,” when a person of color has been elected the President of the United States, is of no small importance. This show was first produced ten years ago in Los Angeles, and the impact of the material may stem in part from being so road-tested; yet Barack Obama’s presence in the highest office in the land has been a landmark shift in American society that has also prompted the return of paranoia, hate and open expressions of racism. As the voting rights act is gutted by the Supreme Court, and blackface Trayvon Martin costumes proliferate among privileged white college students for Halloween, the message of Eenie Meanie finds unexpected new relevance for an audience that might be searching for understanding of a nation whose divisions lately feel like newly opened wounds.
November 16 at 7:30pm
November 21 at 7:30pm
November 24 at 4:00pm
Alt Stage at Walden Theatre
1123 Payne Street
Part of the SLANT Culture Theater Festival