So, you want to write a successful one-person show? Lesson one: Write about what you know. Writer and actress Fia Perera has learned this lesson well. An accomplished performer, Perera has previously explored her role in the world through such solo works as Just Another White Chick from Westchester, Call Me Aphrodite on the Half Shell...Please? and Neurotic in New York. In her latest production, Swimming Naked, now playing at Altered Stages through January 15, Perera takes a revealing look at herself by examining her relationship with her mother. Under the swift direction of Charles Goforth, Perera plays herself and her mother exceptionally well.
Perera isn't the first actress to write about her mom, of course: Christina Crawford famously wrote about her mother, Joan Crawford, in the tell-all book Mommie Dearest. Yet while Perera doesn't portray her mother as a wire-hanger-carrying monster, she does characterize her Mom as a glamorous, larger-than-life and demanding figure. "I don't mean to be judgmental and critical," says Perera's mother as she eloquently swims through an ocean creek in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, wearing only scuba flippers and Jackie O. sunglasses. "I just want you to be better. I want perfection!"
For Perera, the label of "perfection" is not easily acquired -- especially in comparison to her mother. Perera recognizes Mom as a beautiful, socially prominent, confident woman with a successful career and a wonderful marriage while Perera sees herself as a struggling actress who will never find a suitable partner. Naturally, Mother has advice. She reminds Fia not to talk about "depilatory stuff" on a first date; and regarding her daughter's career, she suggests that Fia introduce herself to Cape Cod neighbor Arnold Schwarzenegger. "Take the boat, go over to Arnold Schwarzenegger and say 'I'm an actress from New York. I want to be in one of your movies.' I hear he's very nice." Horrified at the suggestion, Perera responds, "I can't just go up and ask for things!" -- to which Mom quickly quips, "Why not? The Pilgrims did!" Perera obviously gets her terrific sense of humor, too, from her mother.
Set during that very "creek swim," the gifted Perera humorously--and skillfully--differentiates between mother and daughter using voice and movement. Throughout the 70-minute show, Mom swims with magnificent, Esther Williams-esque strokes while Perera treads water with childish, Shelley Winters-esque doggy paddling. The visual metaphor is concise, and Perera's comic timing is impeccable.
Touted as a story "about jumping in, letting go, and learning to love," this highly entertaining and heartfelt solo show takes a "light and frothy" approach to familial relationships. Quickly paced, Swimming Naked also introduces us to a bevy of other colorful characters, including a pot-smoking lesbian whose piercings transmit cable, a suicidal surfer dude, a Russian manicurist, a drag queen, and a showgirl at the Mermaid Lounge. Perera also acquaints us with an aging porn star who advises, "keep your heart open and your legs shut!" and a talent agent who accuses the multipersonality-friendly Perera of "being too many people at once!"
This past season, audiences have been delighted with appealing, funny and insightful one-woman shows, including Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues, Lisa Kron's 2.5 Minute Ride and Margret Cho's I'm the One That I Want. Filled with charisma, humor and sincerity, Perera's Swimming Naked can be added to that list. Indeed, while Eve Ensler has at last given the vagina its voice, Fia Perera has taught it how to swim.