In 'Reminiscence,' stepping through childhood to find the adult

October 20, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

"Women are queer creatures when it comes to love. We make babies and love them forever, or we make dances and dance them forever." Trina Collins makes this statement near the end of her lyrical movement theater piece, "Reminiscence of a Southern Girlhood," now at the Theatre Project.

Founder of the Philadelphia-based ensemble, Danceteller, Collins is the type of creature who chose to make dances. And though this particular one is rooted in a very specific time and place -- Texas and Louisiana in the 1940s and 1950s -- it has a broader appeal due to its theme of examining one's childhood to discover the people and forces that shaped the adult.

In "Reminiscence," Collins identifies two of the strongest influences as Dottie and Juliet, black women who worked for her grandmother. Although these characters are composites, the performer returned to Louisiana and conducted interviews for this piece, which relies at least as much, if not more, on text as on movement, and which features music by Evan Solot.

In the course of the hour-long show, Collins portrays Dottie, Juliet, herself as a young girl, and various members of their families, both male and female.

As Dottie, a woman with a strong religious upbringing, Collins' voice and body language take on solemn grandeur.

One of the most poetic stories in this highly poetic work is Dottie's account of her father's death, which occurred while he was singing in church. When the body was brought home, Dottie tells us her father's mouth was still open -- as if Jesus wanted him to sing in his own choir.

In contrast to her depiction of Dottie, Collins' Juliet speaks in a high, fast-paced voice, and her swift, bird-like gestures convey an exuberance that matches her speech. Juliet's innate cheerfulness takes on stinging poignancy when she relates her surprise at falling in love with the white babies she is hired to care for; then one day, she says with more sadness than bitterness, they look at you differently "and your heart freezes."

Portraying herself when young, Collins seems not only carefree, but imaginative to the point of silliness. Her humor, however, is fresh and tinged with a Southern Gothic flavor, as when she relates her early desire to become a bride of Jesus, whom she imagines arriving as a gentleman caller -- although he happens to be nailed to the cross at the time.

Since its debut two seasons ago, "Reminiscence" has gone through several incarnations; the current version was directed by Theatre Project founder Philip Arnoult, who accompanied the show to the 1993 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This latest "Reminiscence" exudes warmth, love and a sincere effort at understanding, while still acknowledging some of the harsh realities of segregation in the Deep South.

And though Collins' gentle "Reminiscence" might at first seem to have little in common with the theater's current late-night offering, Ann Beigel's bold "Commie Lesbos From Outer Space," the two works actually make intriguing companion pieces. As different as Collins and Beigel appear to be on the surface, they have both created largely affirmative, autobiographical, one-woman shows that demonstrate the impact of early experiences on adult character.

THEATER REVIEW

What: "Reminiscence of a Southern Girlhood"

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; through Oct. 31

Tickets: $14

Call: (410) 752-8558

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