How it’s New York: It is part of the 1st Irish Festival, a theater festival conceived to bring Irish theater to New York.
How it’s Irish: The writer and performer, Sonya Kelly, is Irish, the story is set in the Southside of Dublin in the 1980’s. It is produced by Dublin’s Fishamble Theatre.
Sonya Kelly was a child that did not fit in – her memoir based piece, “I Can See Clearly Now (The Wheelchair On My Face)” explains why. The inventive Kelly portrays a colorful array of characters from her family and community in her one woman show at 59E59 Theaters.
Young Kelly does not see the world the same way everyone else does – literally – she has a massive sight impairment. She describes her parent’s dinner parties in terms of textures, smells and sounds because that is how she makes her way in the world. In lieu of friends, she improvises and creates some imaginary ones – the entire super group, Abba, who conveniently live in her wardrobe, fit the bill. Her voice impressions of the group, which sound like the Swedish chef on The Muppet Show, are hilarious.
“Tennis separates us from the animals,”
she claims as a truth held by her parents, poking fun at their attempt to socialize her through the game. Enacting a spurious attempt to play a game onstage (she can’t see the ball), she gets an audience member to join her, breaking out of character and into a stand up mode for a while.
Kelly’s portrayal of the school nurse, who discovers her disability, is quite brilliant. The nurse’s tone starts out kind and caring, then when she realizes that young Kelly has not been able to read the board for the past three years and panic seeps in, it becomes aggressive and blaming, as if it’s Kelly’s fault for ingeniously duping an entire community of adults.
A poignant coming-of-age tale in between all the laughs, the scene of her encounter with a kind man at the Eye and Ear hospital, where she eventually goes to have her condition diagnosed, is deeply touching. He gives her empathy and his last Rolo – a play on the television commercial for the candy at the time. She should have given it back to him she surmises later on, when she discovers that his need was greater, but excuses herself because she was “… only seven”.
Directed by Gina Moxley, the play is quite a visual piece (pardon the pun). At times, the setting up of props looks cumbersome but is handled effortlessly by Kelly. Her enactment of a blind person in the opening scene is flawless, clearly well studied and a visual highlight of the show, however it is somewhat discordant that she is singing ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ throughout. There were times when it was not clear how old the version of her character she was playing, where a slight change in appearance might have helped.
A cast member of the Irish National Broadcaster’s no holds barred sketch show, ‘The Savage Eye’, Kelly has comedic pedigree and is a solid performer not to be missed.