She of the Voice
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
July 7, 2009
"You don't know Magda, Magda knows you!" proclaims one of the ensemble members of Thinking Person's Theatre. This may very well be true, but I guarantee you that by the end of She of the Voice you will know quite a bit about Magda Mandela and you will likely grow somewhat fond of her.
Adapted from the short story "Magda Mandela" by Hari Kunzru, She of the Voice tells the story of a character whose personality is so large that it can't even fit on stage. By that I mean we never actually meet Magda, not in the sense that there is a single actor that portrays her, but we certainly learn just about all there is to know about her. She is outrageous and outspoken. She is loud and uninhibited. She is wise in a no-nonsense sort of way and foolish in that she's impulsive. She is the type of friend that many of you may have that is more often than not the subject of conversation simply because her behavior is so extreme when compared to everything else that happens in our lives. She is a magnificent force of nature that will sweep you away as she blows by you.
There is no significant story to follow in She of the Voice. The play is made up of anecdotes of Magda's antics told, and sometimes sung, by her neighbors. Eliza Bent's adaptation of Kunzru's short is very engrossing and it manages to hold on to a sense that this play is taken from prose. I could hear the author's voice in all the hilarious anecdotes and I really liked that. Bent's lyrics for the songs are a riot and the music (Greg Portz) accompanies perfectly. One thing that appealed to me about the songs was that not all the performers are singers and so the musical numbers have the feel of ordinary people singing. To his credit, musical director DJ Thacker does a good job with this facet of the show.
Director Jose Zayas gives us a clear picture with his unique vision for this production. The stage is bare and there are very few props. In fact the only one of note is a green butt thong that passes from hand to hand as the actors recite quips about Magda's "philosophies" on life, love, phone etiquette, and many other things. Zayas also has three cameras highlighting some of the action. One is at center and the other left and throughout the play the images are projected behind the actors on black curtains. The third camera is offstage inside a traffic cone making for a peephole view of a couple of segments. Zayas also drives an extremely fast pace that shrinks an hour long show into what feels like half an hour. His staging is straightforward and presentational like a Brecht play (at least in theory). There are also a few dance numbers choreographed by Rebecca Marzalek-Kelly that have the same feeling as the songs. When average people are given dance choreography it becomes an interesting blend of chaos and order.
The ensemble of a dozen or so actors is, for the most part, really great. There are some who are stronger than others but taken as a whole the cast pours a ton of energy into a show that never fails to entertain and charm. Perhaps charm isn't the right word considering that Magda can be so foul-mouthed—but for my part I was charmed.
She of the Voice delivers exactly what I've come to expect from a great festival like Undergroundzero. If you like innovative theatre that is not afraid to take risks then don't miss this show and others offered in this festival.