Staceyann Chin is a memoirist, a spoken-word poet, and a live wire. The best qualities of all three are on display in her autobiographical show, MotherStruck now at Studio Theatre.
The show begins with Chin’s first period and only becomes more personal from there. She shares stories of love & abuse, family & death, blood & tears… And the stamina it takes to keep up her emotional intensity must be tremendous.
That being said, it is easily matched by Chin’s physical stamina. From the first line of the 90-minute show, Chin radiates energy and passion. She dominates the audience’s attention, with bellowed expletives and bold movement across the stage.
It is a great credit to Chin’s balanced writing, her enchanting performance, and Matt Torney’s direction that her bullish charges and bellows never get tiresome, even as the audience wonders how she has it in her. A lesser performance might leave the audience drained, unable to keep up and stay focused, but Chin keeps the audience rapt as the story grows to reach across continents and generations.
For a show with no explicit audience interaction, Chin seizes opportunities to speak directly to audience members, singling them out for quick, pointed moments and pushing the boundaries of rhetorical questioning. It is almost like the threat of a pop quiz, but far more fun.
closes November 13, 2016
Details and tickets
A couple musical gags and an onstage costume change are the only breaks that Chin (or the audience) takes all show, and still she dances through half of the former. If it were physically possible (and, at this point, I will never doubt that Staceyann Chin is physically capable of anything), these breaks might be better off removed. The earlier musical jokes land, but ultimately feel cheap compared to Chin’s “appropriately angry, easily articulate” script, worthy of being quoted to describe itself. Chin’s onstage costume change could serve as a striking turning point, but mostly feels like a speedbump on the otherwise high octane roadtrip.
Kristen Robinson’s set seems mismatched, but gives Chin a visually dynamic space to roam. A smooth, dark surface with a reflective shine is supported by light tan roughcast or stone. The only set-piece, a pleasantly common place ottoman, sits on a circular dais of the shining material. The peculiar design gives Chin plenty of physical levels and places to explore.
Dante Olivia Smith’s lighting design is almost as vibrant as Chin, filling the stage with color and movement. Though Chin could seemingly do perfectly well without the other production elements, Smith complements the story with tone-setting light changes that do much to keep the audience on track. Torney and Smith begin and end the show with Chin still and backlit. For a show with so much momentum, this callback and suddenly static image is a perfect way to signal the end, as final as the back of a hardcover book.
Though even if the lighting and physical energy were stripped away, Chin’s background as a memoirist means MotherStruck would still demand to be read and given your full attention. Her black, lesbian immigrant voice is vital, both for its unique perspective and universal truths. It just so happens that her literal voice is charming, powerful, and vivacious to match, making a remarkable story a remarkable show.
MotherStruck. Written and performed by Staceyann Chin. Directed by Matt Torney. Set design by Kristen Robinson. Lighting design by Dante Olivia Smith. Sound design by Matthew Nielson. Costume design by Brandee Mathies. Stage managed by C. Renee Alexander. Produced by Studio Theatre. Reviewed by Marshall Bradshaw.