Fringe REVIEW: Vanessa @Purple Playhouse Theatre

Brian Butler June 1, 2018

In this gender fluid solo performance co-writer Sam Beckett Jr plays not only Andrew the gay black guy about to marry his white middle class boyfriend, but she also morphs with ease into Vanessa, Andrew’s mother on her way to the wedding with her unseen husband.

AND AS if that trick were not impressive enough, Sam creates a third character – Celia an old female poet from the deep South at some unspecified period in the past but probably 19th century.

Sam and co-writer Jim Kitson, who also directs, add to the powerful brew by mixing genres – so that Andrew’s monologues to us are in the form of stand-up comedy, while Vanessa has conversations with the unseen husband and also with her long-dead 9-year-old daughter Grace. Celia just talks straight at us in a heightened poetical style.

Andrew has lots of black jokes about the light colour of his skin and about his mother’s obsession with baked chicken. While we laugh with Andrew, the two women characters touch our hearts deeply. Vanessa is a caring soul, God-fearing, who embraces her son’s gayness with genuine warmth and humour.

Celia in her poetic descriptions of how she falls in love in church with a young black girl would merit a solo show on its own.

When you think nothing stranger will happen, Sam up and kills off her mother character at the wedding – “it put a downer on the day,“ says Andrew who tells us that black people do death really well.

This is a very intimate, in your face cabaret style show, which the writers say is still a work in progress. I think Celia’s character could be more explained in the context of the storyline, but Sam’s metamorphosis between the three characters is split-second and stunning.

Vanessa is at the Purple Playhouse until June 3

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Review by Brian Butler