Friday, February 9, 2018

Joy Rebel Lights Up the Penumbra

When you hear the phrase "good writing," what does it mean to you? 

Everyone has different answer for this question; after all, we have different tastes and preferences, different values and backgrounds, and so the style and subject matter can widely range between what are considered to be good pieces of writing by any collection of people.

Perhaps my favorite definition comes from a recent podcast by Malcolm Gladwell that details why country music is so poignant and impactful (click here to listen - you won't regret it). Gladwell details that what makes country songs so "sticky" is their specificity; for example, they don't just convey an emotion of sadness but explicitly detail who done who wrong, when and how. A four minute song contains multitudes of specifications, instantly painting a picture of exactly what the artist is trying to say that can't help but stick in our psyches.

Photo courtesy of the Penumbra

I couldn't help but think of this point while watching Joy Rebel, a marvelous new one woman show currently debuting at the Penumbra. Joy Rebel is conceived and performed by Khanisha Foster and relates her experience growing up as a biracial woman, half white and half black, in America and in the acting profession. As her story progresses we learn that her parents were heroin addicts; her early career was built playing Latina characters, because no one believed she was black; and that her white grandmother, despite loving her fiercely, was always disappointed that her daughter had produced black children. It's a piercing monologue and gorgeously written, replete with expansive detail that instantly paints a portrait of Foster's life that can't help but touch you as you listen. Foster's writing is lush and descriptive, bearing hallmarks of Roxane Gay, Lindy West and Tracy K. Smith, and it's just plain riveting.

Photo courtesy of the Penumbra

Foster's performance oozes charisma and charm, blinking in an instant between tremulous sadness and effervescent joy. What makes the whole of Joy Rebel so lovely (for me at least) is the multiplicitious nature of it. No story is ever just one thing; like Foster is both white AND black (regardless of what those who observe her believe), every story contains kernels of pain and love and heartbreak and elation, all intermingled to make this narrative a truly human story. Foster refuses to indulge in the instinct to make her past a martyrdom. Instead, she tells her truth of it and infuses it with every ounce of wisdom and perspective that only time can bestow. Joy Rebel is 70 straight, intermissionless minutes of power and hard-won peace, and I couldn't help but feel overwhelmed with the full, feminine nature of Foster's graceful performance and beautifully written prose. Even if you're not a fan of one-person shows this one is worth a stop. For a slice of complex beauty in your life, look no further than Khanisha Foster's stunning soliloquy Joy Rebel, playing at the Penumbra through February 18. For more information or to buy tickets, click on this link.

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