The two one-acts--one by wordsmith Suzan-Lori Parks and one by director Allison Eve Zell--that have come together to create She Keeps Time at the Mint Theater have some things in common. Each has just one character, and in each, this narrator happens to be a high-strung and slightly paranoid woman mourning a parent's death. Each of these narrators is also attempting to compensate for her newly felt alienation with a sort of frantic, ceaseless speech.
But still, the two shows couldn't feel more different from one another.
In Zell's Come to Leave, a Jewish undergraduate (played by Lethia Nall) remembers how losing her father during her freshman year helped shape her four years at Vassar. She remembers the loss through the small details of daily life--her reading lists, her wine drinking, her desperate trips to the nurse. She sometimes slips into more abstract word play, chanting the words "meaning" and "me" repeatedly--a game that goes some distance to thoughtfully connect the two. But her words are strongest as she describes the most familiar landmarks of an upper-class education.
Parks traces a related loneliness and loss through the less familiar terrain of dreams, dissociation, and comedy in her Pickling, the story of an African-American woman who has locked herself inside her house with only her dead mother's pickling jars for company. Zell directs both pieces.
Parks' narrator, Miss Miss (vividly portrayed by Jaye Austin-Williams), stumbles after her own word slips into new areas for thinking. Miss Miss is just a little crazy, discoursing on her jars and their secrets through a rambling course of linguistic associations. She makes connections between her memories by opening jars, like opening parts of herself. She shows herself to be a collage of everyone she's known, and of most of the words she's ever heard. "Well listen to her going in and out of dialect!" she says of her own winding speech. But the strange connections her memories make, and the hilarious conjunctions of her puns, do more to construct her story than a less-inspired intention could.
One story leads us from love to loneliness: Miss Miss's mother, she tells us, used to love the "sound of clapping," because applause was always a sign of good work. Because mom's dentures happen to sit in a jar next to sand taken from a lifeguard's feet, one story leads to another. The lifeguard had biceps so big, Miss Miss says, they were "good for clapping." She fantasizes about being in bed with him, and as she claps a side of the jar--repeating mother's words, "good for clapping,"--her excited hand-slapping turns into something more like masturbating. "Good for clapping!" she says, but by now clearly chanting alone, in her locked living room, looking more and more lonely.
This warping play with language is never forced; it's unnerving and funny. Another jar holds the red-"dyed" hair of the mother who's "died". So mom has returned to her roots, Miss Miss says, when her roots were showing. The connections between words come unexpectedly--and the language that collages her memory feels as natural here as those Freudian slips which have no script to guide them.