“I’m too Indian to be American
I’m too American to be Indian
I still want a nation, please.”
So begins Neelam Patel’s poem, “Nationhood”, whose subject of identity is a major theme in Patel’s one-woman show Sari to Skin. In the post show Q & A, Patel described the show as ‘excavation of self’ in which she expresses her thoughts on her dual Indian and American heritage.
The show contains no real ‘story and is instead told through a series of nine poems with monologues sporadically interspersed. According to Patel, she wrote the monologues to serve as a “backdrop” for the poetry. Patel said she wanted the show to be, “organic and a demonstration of her process”. Her monologues flow in seamless accordance with her poetry and give the show a sense of cohesion.
As the title implies, the show focuses a great deal on Patel’s heritage. Patel never uses her writing as a vehicle for pity, but rather frankly expresses the mixture of cultural pride and confusion that came from growing up Indian in America. Unfortunately, the theme of identity is one that is explored so often by artists, even with Patel’s lyricism, the show comes dangerously close to feeling commonplace. With the poem, “Lost in Lust”, Patel explores sensuality, describing the tumultuous passions of a new relationship.
The question that remains a is whether Patel’s poetry necessitates the format of a one-woman show. Patel’s monologues deepen the theatrical sense of the show and the lighting by Alexander Keen is effective in aiding the storytelling, especially during “Destiny’s Naming” and “Lost in Lust”. Patel’s delivery is naturalistic and does not get lost in the technicalities of the poetic structure. Still, the production is simplistic enough that I would recommend it only for people with a keen interest in discovering new poetry, because that is truly what the show provides.
Produced, written and performed by Neelam Patel
Reviewed by Mo O’Rourke
Michael B. says
I found the performance to be compelling, evocative, and moving. The fusion of contemporary American themes and blocking reminiscent of Indian dance separates this from the myriad other explorations of cultural identity. It is this juxtaposition that most clearly shows the difficulty that Neelam Patel has in balancing the two pieces of her life. Through minimal theatrics, and with the kind of sincerity one would hope to find in an autobiographical work, the solo performer loosely weaves together the portrait of a young woman caught between worlds that seem to be exclusive of one another. Does this “necessitate the format of a one-woman show”? Absolutely. The words and Ms. Patel’s story are made more poignant and more palpable through her movement.