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How Theater Failed America

Inner Voices: Solo Musicals

Victoria Clark's remarkable performance in Michael John LaChiusa and Ellen Fitzhugh's "Tres Ninas" elevates this evening of three solo musical monologues into a must-see event.

By New York City
Victoria Clark in Tres Ninas
(© Andy Criss)
Victoria Clark in Tres Ninas
(© Andy Criss)
A trio of one-woman musicals comprise the aptly-named Inner Voices, currently playing a limited engagement at The Zipper. While each of the three accomplished pieces in the 90-minute program achieves the intended effect of creating a sung dramatic monologue, the highlight is easily the fully realized, entirely satisfying curtain-raiser, brilliantly performed by Victoria Clark -- which elevates the show from a worthwhile curiosity to a must-see event.

In "Tres Ninas," written by Michael John La Chiusa and Ellen Fitzhugh, Clark is a Southern Californian who relates, in three distinct episodes spanning two and a half decades, her memorable encounters with immigrants from across the border. Costumed in a slip, Clark transforms from a young, impressionable 11-year-old girl to a harried working mother in her twenties to the more world-weary bartender a decade later. At all times, though, her performance is richly detailed and believable, whether rendering an innocent girlishness at the start or a womanly sensuality at the conclusion.

The piece is a rare beauty in which the lyrics play as naturally as plain dialogue, with the music (performed on piano and guitar) serving to heighten the moods and themes of the material rather than to impose tunes on them. Most important, Clark sings all of it gloriously, subtly using her soprano to render the inner life of the character. While her vocal command is remarkable in the first section of the piece, where she credibly depicts the 11-year-old's vulnerability and open curiosity without resorting to easy vocal tricks, it's even more noteworthy later, when she shades the notes to render fearful caution and carnal desire in the story of a sexual encounter with a young Mexican man.

The bouncy, tuneful music for one piano in Laura Harrington and Jenny Giering's "Alice Unwrapped" seems at first well-suited to the title character, an awkward teenager who literally shields herself in protective gear. But one soon realizes the music could use some variation once the girl's poignant story -- looking after her difficult little sister while mom stays bedridden and dad is MIA overseas -- is more fully revealed. The work's flaws notwithstanding, Jennifer Damiano (last seen in Next to Normal) gives an affecting performance that avoids preciousness.

The final piece, "A Thousand Words Come To Mind," is the least dramaturgically developed of the evening, but its music (by Scott Davenport Richards) is sophisticated and fascinating. Effectively using the sometimes dissonant musical vocabulary of bluesy jazz, the score (performed on piano and bass) brings distinctive dramatic color to the story of a middle-aged daughter (the superb Barbara Walsh) whose dying mother claims to have served as the inspiration for a character in Philip Roth's novel, The Human Stain. Although the premise is slight by design, allowing the daughter to riff on her relationship to her mother, the piece needs something more unifying than its scattered memorable moments to achieve a worthwhile pay-off.


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