Unveiled &Warning Signs
nytheatre.com review by Kevin Connell
July 23, 2006
Their solo plays are different—Michele Cuomo has a burqua as the catalyst for her tale, while Maggie Surovell has an awesome afro to magnify her identity crisis—but both shows explore issues specific to being a woman, an American, and more universally, a citizen of the world. And both bring the "God" issue to an earthly matter, just as Joan Osborne did when she wrote the lyrics "What if God was one of us / Just a slob like one of us / Just a stranger on a bus / Trying to make his way home."
Cuomo's Unveiled recounts her experience directing a production of Phaedra and her inspired decision to drape the title character in a burqua as a metaphor for the repression of women and their denial of rights. Her attempt to actualize her vision, though, is met by many fumbling and comical obstacles. She searches, to no avail (pun intended), through multiple costume collections in New York City, finally connecting with a businessman in Pakistan who assists in her purchase. She casts a lead actress who is mortified that the director wants to cover her face and body—"How am I ever going to get an agent if they can't see my face?!?" And her Hippolytus is more ghetto hip-hop than the expected classical-speaking Greek Adonis. But much is gained from Cuomo's research for Phaedra that leads to poignancy in her performance of Unveiled. Her portrayal of an American Christian woman who marries a Muslim man, converts, and migrates to Cairo, Egypt is most effective. It is shocking to witness how this woman deals with the genital mutilation of her nine-year-old sister-in-law by the other women in the Egyptian household.
Cuomo has a gentle and generous presence on stage, but there is a self-consciousness that alienated me, specifically when she played "Michele." I wanted less of these moments and more of the Southern woman, the Pakistani businessman, the Ghetto hip-hop Hippolytus. And those other characters: those three missing persons, and Judith Malina, and so much more of that crazy actress playing Phaedra. The power of this piece lives in these characters. I'd love to see it developed further—realizing its mature potential.
Surovell's Warning Signs is a series of life lessons told through the "warnings" given by a father, a mother, a teacher, a friend—"don't do that...I'm warning you!" And the warnings piss her off. They strengthen her beliefs. And they teach her a few lessons. And to complicate matters further, Surovell's warnings are magnified by the left-leaning, progressive politics of her parents and her own self-proclaimed Socialist / Atheist / Vegetarian / Feminist understanding of who "Maggie" is.
Surovell's a solo act in life and one-of-a-kind on stage. She is fascinating to look at—literally. Is she Puerto Rican? Black? White? A mixture of several shades of the rainbow? How did her hair get that big? Wow—that kinky mass of fabulousness! When she speaks, every moment is a surprise, a ponderance, a contradiction, a challenge to what is expected. She tells us that she thought Santa Claus was black because the first Santa she saw was a black Santa ornament at a friend's house. She was shocked to discover that other people thought Santa was white. This is interesting. Surovell seems destined to defy the norms. This is not just stand-up and imitations of the adult figures in her life. Surovell addresses the issues. Separation of church and state. Racism. Date rape. All the time trying to balance her idealistic and naive expectations of the desires, impulses, moments, and events that have collectively shaped this woman who is an American. Who is a citizen of the world.