nytheatre.com review by Melle Powers
August 8, 2008
Baby Cow is Christine Renee Miller's autobiographical one-woman play about her journey to claiming her sexuality and owning her place in the world as a multi-ethnic woman. But really, it's about her mother—a Korean-born woman disowned by her family when she married Miller's African-American father and moved to the States—and the tightrope you walk when your mother is both your biggest critic and your biggest fan. No matter how much Miller fights to stake her independence, according to the Korean nursery song that provides the show's title, "baby cow is the same as mama cow."
And what a mama cow! The primary tension in this mother/daughter relationship is Miller's divorce at a young age, and general "unwillingness" to settle down and deliver some grandkids. Miller's impression of her mother is pretty hysterical. In particular a monologue where Miller—as her mother—stands in her church basement and delivers a detailed story of "a time I did not get something I wanted" (great line: "I will write my own solo show because therapy is very expensive!"—now imagine that line delivered with a Korean accent wrapped in a Texas twang and you get a small idea of just how funny she is). The beauty of this monologue, and the show in general, is that even though the stories are personal, they do not feel like therapy, but instead, like a window into a very loving relationship that is universal in its complexity.
Miller's tales about her mother are peppered between stories of her sexual awakening, marriage at 23 to a college professor, and the reactions of others to her striking ethnic mix—represented by a Greek chorus of doormen, a veritable United Nations of bad pick-up lines, who each lay ethnic claim to her based on her "exotic" looks and sleaze on her accordingly.
The magic of a one-person show lies in watching an actor transform herself into a wide range of people. Miller is very successful with some of her characterizations: Her mother, as well as a hilariously inappropriate British woman with a lust for black men are particularly worth mentioning, but other characterizations need sharpening—it sometimes took me a while to identify certain characters as male.
Which is not to say that Miller isn't a lovely and captivating performer. I was surprised to read in the program that this is her stage debut. She is relaxed and confident on stage, with a beautiful physical life and a delightful rubber-faced expressionism.
Miller employs different methods of storytelling in her script—from novel-like narration, to direct address, to fourth wall monologueing, to "scenes" between characters—and the variety of styles sometimes makes for a disjointed viewing experience. Likewise, the ending feels a bit abrupt, and I hope she continues to fine-tune the script and flesh out the story because while it is very engaging, it feels a bit incomplete.
Director Lileana Blain-Cruz deftly keeps the action clear, with smart, straightforward direction. The bare bones set consists of a coat rack, a chair, and a scarf-draped stool. The minimal props and costumes allow for smooth transitions between characters and keep the focus squarely on the performance. Overall, this is a delightful show that I found to be a very enjoyable kick-off to my FringeNYC viewing.