Vickie Tanner in ‘Running Into Me.’
By Michelle Ramoni
Two compelling shows, Jellybean and Running Into Me, are currently underway at Irondale Theater as part of its “She Stands Alone Festival,” running through January 27. This event is somewhat timely as women are now increasingly unveiling their truths. Coincidentally, the performances I saw fell on the day of the Second Annual Women’s March. Irondale Ensemble Project, led by artistic director, Terry Geiss, is celebrating its 35th season. Mr. Geiss is thrilled to curate these dynamic female artists, cultivating a feminine viewpoint that until recently has often been overlooked.
The pairing of these two potent solo shows is an ideal match as both artists guide the audience through troublesome upbringings with refreshingly contrasting style and execution. Padraic Lillis sharply directs Vickie Tanner’s Running Into Me, taking the audience through Vickie’s childhood in Compton, California, through her eventual migration to New York City.
Tanner flows gracefully through each of her 15 characters without missing a beat. The warm lighting that illuminates the stage throughout the play shifts to cooler tones with a soft spotlight as she plays her ageless and genderless ID, Junebug. Junebug embodies Tanner’s deep truth, as well as serves as the plays exposé of social and political dis-ease.
The stage is set with one chair, yet the actress creates a complex world of changing times, locations, and characters by using her body language and voice, creating stark shifts in volume, tempo and movement. Her body becomes a magnetic temple of percussion, song, and dance, adding a rich texture to her performance. I was most captivated, however, by Tanner’s silent moments, when her story is exquisitely unfolded through her expression and breath.
The second act (though the series alternates performance order) invites the audience to fill the seats and couches lining the stage in a semi-circle to watch Lee Harrington’s Jellybean. In contrast, this lighting now generously washes over the audience, diminishing the gap between performer and audience to create the experience of a group meeting.
Immediately, we are swept into an interactive experience as Harrington addresses us with a “How are you? My name is…” salutation. As she begins recounting the story of being raised by her mother who identifies herself as Bonanza Jellybean, in an unaligned fashion, she uses her lyrical voice to encapsulate the audience as she unveils horrific details of physical and mental abuse. She asks the audience to assist with an important decision by using a whiteboard to tally the pros and cons of her experiences.
Harrington’s chromatic language and storytelling are hilarious, and her ability to uncover these dark experiences with such grace and humor, led by Daniel Jenkins’ scintillating direction, enables the audience to embrace the experience of this young woman’s past. She expertly turns down the volume of protective charm just a touch with each moment, divulging just the right amount of sadness and vulnerability, without ever landing in morbid reflection. I found myself deeply touched long after the show had ended, reminded that while the Women’s March gives voice to a nation, so too, do women artists who excel at their craft.
She Stands Alone
85 South Oxford Street
Michelle Ramoni hails from San Francisco and has been living in New York City for 18 years as a writer, actress, and producer. She is also a voiceover run coach for audio treadmill classes.