If You See Something, Say Something.
nytheatre.com review by Robert Buckwalter
August 11, 2006
If you See Something, Say Something, a monologue piece written and performed by Elna Baker, is a collection of stories about a young Mormon woman living in New York City. From the moment she enters the stage, Baker fills the room with a friendly down-home innocence and purity, leaving the audience to grimly imagine what this cold, sinful city is about to wreak upon her. The City, however, turns out to be an amusement park of sorts for this girl. While Baker is a gifted and charming storyteller, and the stories she tells are funny, the significance of just how her Mormonism relates to her new life tends to skim the surface, except for one poignant and touching tale of love lost.
Self-denial, as part of most conservative religious upbringings, has left Baker inclined to say no to a lot of things in life. Some of her stories are told in the context of her gratifying and liberating ability to begin saying "yes"; even if yes isn't really yes. Yes to the job-fair coach who asks her if she is a business student (she is in fact a drama major) and showers her with complimentary business paraphernalia. And, yes to an event hostess who enables her and a friend to attend (crash) a 7-11 corporate party and make a toast in front of 500 7-11 employees. These stories are amusing and fun to listen to, but I began feeling that I had missed something. While Baker discovers the fun and fantastical results of saying yes, she bypasses the internal route of a young Mormon woman's journey from "no."
Mixed in throughout the performance are also stories that have no direct relationship to Mormonism at all. There's the man who defecated in the subway car she was stranded in and the ensuing conversation starter it became for her and her fellow strap-hangers. And her stint as an "adoption nurse" for baby dolls at FAO Schwartz causes her to question her tolerance for bratty kids and snotty moms who demand a white baby for their child. Again, while Baker keeps the audience captivated with these stories in their detail and humor, they seem a bit random and out of place in the context of what the piece is trying to achieve.
It is when Baker tells the story of her relationship with Nick, a man she loved deeply but lost due to the irreconcilability of a Mormon and an atheist that we finally see just how this sweet, unhardened girl from Utah will face some hard times in a city like New York. While I won't give away specifically what does the relationship in, Baker bares a dignified soul-searching attempt to make sense of her loss, but as secure as ever in her religion, never once apologizes for her conflicted inability in this case to say "yes." It is a moving account of a blissful yet ultimately painful ride that she delivers with grace, humor, and sincerity.
Director Jenifer Hixson and Joe Schiappa, who assists in creative development, help Baker achieve a very casual living room chat feel that keeps the piece grounded and geared toward her natural strengths as a performer. In all, while I came away from If you See Something... feeling that I wanted to hear more insights into the trials of a young religious girl who is not in Utah anymore (with more clarity from the perspective of a Mormon), I very much enjoyed Baker's gifted storytelling and her ability to keep the piece quite entertaining. That down-home innocence that she exudes does have an infectious quality that could pop even more with further heartfelt revelations.