By Ilaria Cutolo
I could tell the minute I sat down for Willa’s Authentic Self that I was about to experience something unusual. As we waited for the show to begin, we were greeted by a shimmering sea-green tinsel stage curtain as the room pulsed with soothing, otherworldly music. I was instantly transported to somewhere not on this sphere. Unexpectedly, Willa- (Lisa Clair) her head suddenly pokes through the curtain and greets us with a quirky monologue and song. It charmingly sets the tone for the acid-trip inducing fever dream that is about to ensue.
This production feels like one of those rare, surreal lucid dreams. Credits must be given to the hypnotic, ethereal stage sounds of John Gasper and the creative set and costume design led by Caitlin Ayer, for combining humor with the surreal. At one point we are met with James Dean who appears with an over sized paper-machete like head smoking a cigarette (Nicholas Sanchez). He is Willa’s therapist/lover/shaman who soon gifts Willa a sentient lump of clay. It gradually morphs into an orange Oompa Loompa like figure which turns out to be a Golem, and Willa’s daughter, whom she names Mimi (Juliana Francis Kelly).
This production is inspired by the Jewish Golem folklore. In this version, Lisa Clair brings it to life through a feminist lens, with humor and over the top absurdity. The cast is refreshing and diverse delivering the absurd in a way that feels light, natural, and not forced. The story proves transportable to any and all parts of society, including modern day New York City, where it takes place.
In this version of the Golem tale, Willa (Clair), our star of the play, is disillusioned with life. She craves a change and receives just that when her eccentric Golem/daughter, Mimi (Kelly), gives her everything she could ever ask for, including the mayorship of New York City, but it all comes at a huge cost. It is a cautionary tale about greed, and the dangers of playing God all while immersing you in a fever dream. Willa’s final monologue left my head spinning. This comes not long after her book club member friends all turn into giant ants with amusing giant heads (a la James Dean) and extra floppy limbs all sipping espresso’s while debating Willa’s many faux pas.
Willa’s Authentic Self takes place at Theater Mitu– a small and cozy industrial space in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. It serves as an artist and theater research hub, “Driven by a commitment to innovation… expands the definition of theater through methodical experimentation with its form,” as stated on the website.
All that being said, it was amusing and refreshing to see theater not take itself too seriously. I was smiling through most of the production enjoying the feeling of not knowing what would come next. Do not come here looking for a linear experience. Bring an open mind and sense of absurdity with you and you won’t leave disappointed.
Willa’s Authentic Self – Written by Lisa Clair; Directed by Shannon Sindelar.
WITH: Lisa Clair (Willa), Juliana Francis Kelly (Mimi), Dee Dorcas Beasnel (Samantha, Queen Ant), Sauda Aziza Jackson (Janet, Ant), Jeremy Kadetsky (Ed, Kid 1), Nicholas Sanchez (James Dean, Ant), and Hanlon Smith-Dorsey (Walter, Gene, Turtleman, Ant), Winter Commander (Kid 2).
The creative team includes Caitlin Ayer (lead production design), John Gasper (sound design), Mary Ellen Stebbins (lighting design), Yijun Yang (associate scenic design), Emily White (associate costume design), Red (associate props and media design), Max Mooney (Stage Management) and Blaze Ferrer (creative producer).
Thirteen performances of Willa’s Authentic Self will take place May 11–26, 2023, at MITU580, located at 580 Sackett Street in Brooklyn. The performance schedule is Wednesday–Saturday at 7 PM and Sunday at 5 PM with an additional performance on Tuesday, May 23 at 7 PM. General admission tickets, which are priced at $15-$35, are available at www.lisaclair.com. Standard ticketing fees apply.
Willa’s Authentic Self is produced and created by the Lisa Clair Group in association with Immediate Medium and In Collaboration with New Georges.
Visit www.lisaclair.com for more information.