How did I lose my laugh? This is the question that solo artist Shameka Cunningham asks herself repeatedly throughout I Lost My Laugh in the Revolution. But whether or not she answers the question is up for debate. If she could commit to the role in a deeper way, the audience may be able to get to the root of her problem, but unfortunately this is not the case.
The audience hears several distinct laughs before Cunningham appears on stage. This aural, rather than visual introduction to the performer is a unique approach to opening a piece, but unfortunately the various bits of laughter do not have time to resonate. She immediately begins to spout dialogue, lessening the impact of her laughs.
The show depicts Cunningham’s frustration with a character labeled “love of my life” and an abusive father figure. She addresses her issues with her lover in present time, but discusses her childhood issues as her younger self. Oddly enough, her performance is much more grounded and realistic when she plays the role of young Shameka than when she portrays her current self. In the child role, she has the mannerisms and speech patterns down pat, from the jittery, antsy inability to sit still to the shy smiles and rapid speech. In the adult role, she adopts the tone and delivery of a spoken word artist, which seems strikingly out of character for an average woman telling of her failed relationships. The show’s dialogue is very well crafted and if Cunningham would slow down the pace of speech, the words would really have the power to strike the audience like bullets rather than simply washing over them like rushing water.
Yet I cannot fault Miss Cunningham completely—the show’s major problem is its lack of direction. For example, the transitions between the work’s short vignettes include dance-based movements that would be more fitting in musical numbers than in a show with a poignant message. Cunningham’s character also discusses a love of photography and pretends to take photos with a digital camera in one scene. However, the camera is not even turned on, which completely kills the realism.
Near the end of the show, Cunningham concludes that the reason she lost her laugh was because she had never allowed herself to scream. Whether that refers to yelling for help as an abused child, shouting in anger at her neglectful lover, or both is ultimately up to the audience to decide.
Despite the problems with this specific work, Cunningham shows the promise of one day becoming a transcendent performer. Her character never allowed herself to make mistakes, but if Cunningham can accept this less than perfect performance and learn from it, it will serve her greatly in her future as a theatrical performer.
I Love My Laugh in the Revolution
by Shamika Cunningham
reviewed by Whitney Fetterhoff
Running time: 50 minutes
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Did you see the show? What did you think?