By Tulis McCall
“Baggage at the Door” is written and performed by Dana Aber. Ms. Aber is a woman of singular vocal talent. Her voice is silk and right up there with any number of folks working on Broadway. What a pleasure.
As to the text, this one-woman musical is filled with good intent. The unnamed woman explains to us that she is at a crossroad. Januaries past have damaged her – one year a poisonous fish, the next a subway track encounter, next a mosquito who gifted her with dengue fever otherwise known as breakbone fever – you can do the imagining here. And the final January – well it takes awhile to get to that, but let’s just say it is not a pretty picture.
Aber walks us through a variety of methods she uses to defeat the PTSD that has built up over the past four January episodes and makes her terrified of being seen. At the same time, being seen is what she wants. Not only that but she wants to enjoy the other 11 months of the year.
How recent the various incidents are we never find out, but the point seems to be that it does not matter because these events and the so-called remedies are the baggage that she carries with her. Literally. The set is a collection of carry-on bags – the generic ones that we all seem to have these days. Tucked inside is everything from a weighted blanket to stuffed animals to a serious collection of rhinestone jewelry. (Rhinestones distract people from seeing her too clearly.) Aber moves these carry-ons about with skill and grace, but the purpose of each repositioning was lost on me. This is one smart cookie who remembers all her lines, her vocal work and these darn props without a single stumble. This staging, however, makes her work way too hard with little or no return on investment.
As to the text, Aber has packed a lot of terrific ideas into this show.
I know about the dangers of unforeseen speed.
Isn’t falling in love supposed to be FUN??
Putting myself out there feels more like following the same path and hoping for a different outcome.
Strong women hold it together — that’s why we’re strong: We’re fine. We don’t crumble.
Any one of these would be worthy of guiding us on any path, but we are never allowed to climb on board. For right now, her PTSD and fears remain generic. Aber spreads a wide net and would do well to trust her own inner voice and specificity.
As the play concludes she accepts the advice of her on-screen therapist (also playedby Aber) and tells us about the brutal, final January mess. This cannot help but bring out her own raging dark side, after which she tells us
I really didn’t want for you to see that.
Well of course she wanted us to see that – it is one of the main threads of the entire piece. This is why the song “Things I Broke” (which is reminiscent of Jacques Brel) works perfectly. It is precise and unflinching, lacking in self pity. The rest of the music – even though the delivery is flawless – never rises above mildly interesting.
Full disclosure – I understand a lot of this because it is the same problem I have had creating my own one woman shows. The paths were not clear, and while I flatter myself that my performance was fine, the lack of specfity weighed the productions down.
As for Aber – I hope she will trust that people’s secrets and confusion are fascinating to those of us sitting in the safety of our theatre seats. Aber has littered her path with some terrific gems. If she continues with this piece perhaps she will find a way to dig deep and let that raw voice start dancing in the light where it belongs. Who knows – it might have a comedic side heretofore unnoticed. Aber could handle that.
Baggage at the Door
Created and performed by Dana Aber, with music direction by Jacob Stebly, and direction and dramaturgy by Joe Langworth
Baggage at the Doorfeatures songs created in collaborationwith: James Ballard, Christie Baugher, Alanya Bridge, Amy Burgess & Sara Cooper, Teresa Lotz, Joseph Trefler, Rachel Dean, Mika Kauffman, Martha Miller,and Thomas Jacobsen.
The creative team is Josh Freilich (orchestrations), Marc Halpin(set design), Aiden Bezak (lighting design)and Dana Aber (projection design). The production stage manager is Brent Michael Jones.
Baggage at the Door will play the following performance schedule: Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdaysat 3pm & 7pm,& Thursdays at 7pm.The show runs 85 minutes.Ticketsare priced at $40 (general admission)and $50(premium) and may be purchased online here. Tickets may also be purchasedin personat the AMT Theaterbox office one (1) hour before curtain. Further information about AMT Theaterhere.For more information, visit www.baggageathedoormusical.com.