Ungrateful Daughter: One Black girls story of being adopted into a White family... that aren't celebrities.
nytheatre.com review by Carissa Cordes
August 15, 2012
I am always amazed at the amount of bravery necessary to put on a one-person show, and Lisa Marie Rollins' show Ungrateful Daughter: One Black girls story of being adopted into a White family... that aren't celebrities is no exception. She let her nerves show to tell her story. The premise for the show is a slightly fictionalized biographical look at Lisa Marie's life as a trans-racial adoptee during the seventies.
The show begins with an Oprah-like character, Ms Hostlady, interviewing a modern-day liberal Caucasian couple who have decided to adopt an African child. The conversation quickly becomes uncomfortable and serves as the introduction to Rollins' monologues and vignettes acting out her experiences grappling with her own identity and conception of self. She introduces the audience to her community, which is not diverse (with only a few exceptions); the extra twist in Rollins' story is that her parents are Republican, Christian, blond-haired, blue-eyed and organic farmers. Her parents had requested an "Asian-mix" female baby. The adoption agency packaged her to her parents as "brown"—Filipino / Mexican / Caucasian mix. However in Rollins' research she discovered her natural father had been a Black Panther, (though she only drops off that information and then switches topics).
One of the most poignant scenes for me is her mother trying to comb through her very kinky hair on the day of little Rollins' recital. Her mother gives up in frustration and decides to cut off Rollins' hair.
There are brief flashes and moments of brilliance. For instance, Rollins has a fictional conversation with a plaque belonging to her mother that contains a representation of an Aunt Jemima; it started off strong, but wandered away in specificity. Some mixed-up lighting cues didn't help the clarity of this creative section. I worried about the vocal strain on Rollins once or twice through the show and was relieved when she would stop and grab some tea to get through the piece.
Tech and vocal issues aside, to make a strong theatre piece which grabs hold of the audience and does not let go Rollins and director W Kamau Bell need to look at the very long transitions between each section and each section's clarity in both the writing and the performance in relation to the throughline of the piece. Here and there I saw self-exploratory, specific moments overlooked to speak generally about a global problem. However, when the show wandered and my focus was struggling to follow and make sense of the moment, Rollins was able to pop back and the show sticks the landing in the conclusion.
Rollins is also the founder of AFAAD, Adopted and Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora, an international organization providing support and advocacy around domestic and international adoption issues. Personally, I wished Rollins had incorporated some of this intriguing experience into her promising show.
I was most intrigued with Rollins' moments of self-discovery and identity. I think the moments of truth, seeing the blank amended birth certificate, for instance, are most appealing and help the audience connect with their own journeys and struggles with identity.