When Maggie Cino is onstage, sometimes you need to shield your eyes from the flash of pure innocence beaming out from her face. For the more jaded viewer, this sense of wonder can be nearly indecent in its unembarrassed openness. But turn back a moment later and you're in for a bigger shock: the young woman before you is now hundreds—thousands—of years old, animated by a spirit that's seen more than you dare imagine.
I've worked with Maggie as a director several times and seen her perform in innumerable other projects, both as a "straight actress" and as a "physical performer" or "clown." I put these terms in quotes because, just as her stage presence sends a cannonball of vulnerability through the audience's defenses, so the walls between performance styles collapse into dust when exposed to her relentless talents.
An example comes from the most recent project I've directed her in, Piper McKenzie's production of Trav S.D.'s rock musical Willy Nilly: A Musical Exploitation of the Most Far-Out Cult Murders of the Psychedelic Era. The show was a midnight-movie spoof starring a Mad Magazine version of the Manson Family, and Maggie played one of female cult-killers, a straitjacketed asylum escapee named, simply, "Crazy." It could easily have been a throwaway role, a string of silly gags simply reinforcing the show's cartoony style—but not with Maggie playing it. Over the course of the rehearsal process, this outsized archetype grew ever subtler and stranger with each outing. At one point a carefully crafted tinfoil hat found its way onto the stage, and it was clear that Maggie/Crazy was using it as a conduit for fantastic voices from beyond the mortal world. A spatula, introduced for a throwaway joke, became a talisman of wonder and danger. A series of arcane hand gestures underscored every exchange. When the show went into performances, any moment with Maggie onstage—even—especially—those in which she wasn't the focus of attention—found her at play in a bewildering, pervasive wonderland in which every detail of the script and staging was encountered with awestruck joy, as if encountered for the very first time.
And this is the secret of Maggie's magic: an imaginative honesty that's almost perverse in its thoroughness. Given the most outlandish of situations, Maggie will make it not only personal, not only believable, but actually real. Her training in clowning and physical comedy (she's an alumna of Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theater) combines with an innate passion for embracing the full spectrum of human emotion to create a deep trust of the oft-elusive Actual Moment that is always the basis of live theatre. Even in the most stylized of material—such as her noir-saturated collaborations with Carolyn Raship (Die Like a Lady, Angry Little People) or her own solo play Ascending Bodily (published in Plays and Playwrights 2003), in which she plays a globe-trotting woman laden with handbags who waxes poetic about "tiny llamas"—it's clear that she is completely reinventing her character, her circumstances, and, indeed, her entire self, every time she begins.
Maggie's characters aren't just roles to be played: they're lives to be lived. And having passed through so many lifetimes in the course of her own relatively few years, it's no wonder that she has the gift of being perpetually young yet eternally ancient. And even though she can shine brightly enough to damage your weary, workaday eyes, you'd rather risk blindness than miss a moment of it.Published on June 16, 2010