Haven't blogged in a while, but RANDOM ACTS made me do it. Happy to tell you about something you should see!
While waiting to watch the newest iteration of RANDOM ACTS, Renata Hinrichs' moving, funny and more relevant by the minute one-woman show, I was struck by Renata's program note in which she credited the inspiration for this show being her experience living downtown during 9/11 when "memories from my childhood started to surface. The sirens and searchlight that erupted near St. Vincent's Hospital were reminiscent of the chaos, confusion, and terror I experienced as a child in the midst of the struggle for Civil Rights in the South Side of Chicago in the 1960s…" These memories, along with subsequent interviews with her parents to fill in the blanks of her memory as a young child, form the basis of her show.
As someone who also lived through 9/11 in NYC and had my own work transformed by that experience, I recognize the impact of traumatic experience on opening up new/old zones of the self. I mention this now because I think this part of the show, which is never mentioned within the production itself, may have some relationship to its emotional resonance now. In a talkback Renata spoke about her desire for this show to be authentic. This aligns with an unnamed movement I have watched develop in which many of us who directly experienced 9/11 have spent a lot of time since then working to create performances that embody complex levels of reality, while grounded in experience.
I don't want to give away the show, because there are many twists and turns in Renata's expert story telling that are best left to discover while watching. However, her instinct to tell this story from herself-as-a-child's point of view is a good one. We are accustomed to seeing the events of the Civil Rights era from the adult point of view with conscious actors, people with honed sensibilities who have decided what side they are on and for whom or what they are fighting. While these stories are moving and necessary, to witness these events from the point of view of a five and six year old girl, who herself is living in between so many worlds, gives a new and valuable window into these events.
Renata was the child of a young and idealistic Lutheran pastor of a primarily white church on Ashland Avenue—a long boulevard that divided the white and African-American sections of the Southside. Her father tried to integrate the church much to the dismay of some of his own congregation and other neighbors, especially during the riots that ensued in response to Martin Luther King's assassination. Racist white men responded to her father's tolerance by hurling rocks in their window.
Renata attended a primarily black kindergarten, walking on her own to school (as someone raised during the same period of time, I can assure you, this level of: oh, kids can take care of themselves, was normal, though was interesting to hear the audible gasps in the audience when Renata recounted her mother's conversation with her father about this—times have changed!). She encountered hostility on the street for being white, that as a little girl she did not understand, but the person who looked out for her was a young African-American man whose face she never saw. Her father told her that was her guardian angel, which as a five year old she took to heart.
Her questions about the violence against African-Americans intensified in the crack down after the riots—especially the killing of a young man like the one who had helped her—are heartbreaking, and become a kind of Black Lives Matter rallying cry, though not as a political movement, but instead from a little girl's ingenuous questions about unfairness. In the show, Renata embodies childhood without sentimentality, but also without losing the reality of the fantasy life of a little girl who wants to dance (and indeed becomes a dancer as an adult) and who believes she has a fairy godmother (and a guardian angel). Suffice to say at the end of seeing this show for the second time, I was sobbing (as I did the first time). This is not a normal response for me, and I attribute it to Renata's clear gifts and the impact of her—yes authentic—story.
Renata as an actor has an uncanny ability to transform into all the people who she is telling us about, including her own older, teen, and young child self. She does this with simplicity and humor, aided by the expert staging of director Jessi Hill, who also helped Renata expand this piece into a full-length evening that feels embodied and immersive, thanks in no small part to Matt Otto's excellent sound design. I also appreciated the simplicity and effectiveness of Daisy Long's lighting design, that added depth and definition to a small stage, which worked in sync with Chika Shimizu's adaptable set that shifted with the mood and place of the moment. If you can, you should this show.
RANDOM ACTS is running at the Barrow Group through March 2, 2019, Tuesday-Sunday.