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My Mind Is Like an Open Meadow

Erin Leddy's solo show using taped interviews with her grandmother is a surprisingly sophisticated piece of theater.

Erin Leddy in My Mind Is Like an Open Meadow
(© Kate Sanderson Holly)
American society tends to idolize youth and marginalize the aged; What a surprise, therefore, is it to discover My Mind Is Like An Open Meadow, now at 59e59 Theatres, in which Erin Leddy, a young actress and writer, uses the accumulated wisdom of her actress grandmother (collected on 20 hours of taped interviews with her) to help understand the essentially unchanged challenges that await her on her journey through life as an actress.

But there's more than that story to be found in this ambitious solo piece: a sophisticated 65-minute show that uses just about every theatrical tool at Leddy's disposal from music to dance to imaginative sound design.

Leddy's grandmother was not a famous actress, but she was a woman committed to her art. She is also a woman, near the end of her life and very much aware of that fact. So the piece is as much about the trials and tribulations of being an artist as it is rumination on how to live and die. Indeed, Leddy wants to synthesize the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual elements of this bond of blood and profession that has been handed down across the generations.

Understanding that music can convey emotion more forcefully (and viscerally) than prose, Leddy sings beautifully and tenderly a series of excellent original songs composed by Ash Black Bufflo that are interspersed throughout the show.

Smartly, Leddy also counterbalances her sweet singing with some smart acting choices. At the beginning of the piece, there is some banter between Leddy and her grandmother's taped voice about the size of the theater they are "appearing in together." The elderly grandmother can't quite accept that there are just 40 people in the audience. It's a cute bit and it immediately engages the audience and pulls us in.

Later on, though, there is a moment in the play when she actually spits a seed (at least we think it's a seed) out of her mouth right in the face of a person sitting in the front row. And during the course of the piece, Leddy goes nose-to-nose with a number of people in the theater - literally staring at them in a take-no-prisoners moment of performance.

There are times when My Mind is Like An Open Meadow teeters dangerously on the precipice of the avant-garde (as its title might suggest), but the show ultimately remains grounded in strong emotions and a clear thematic thread. To that end, a number of people deserve praise for this brave piece of work, including director Jonathan Walters and the show's sound designer, Casi Pacilio.