Bringing global issues into specific relief, What Mama Said About “Down There” at the Fringe has an important message behind its interesting concept: when women are able to talk frankly about their bodies and sexuality, they are safer and more well. I saw the show with a smattering of early theatregoers at the Robert Gill Theatre, and I came away more sorry than anything. There is some very promising work here, and I found it badly in need of a good director, or perhaps a director with more distance from the material. I fear that the best stuff – and there is some real talent here – gets lost amid some questionable theatrical choices. First the good news: writer and performer Sia Amma has a beautiful voice, a great range of accents, and some very interesting stories to tell. The show is built around her and others’ experiences of their mothers’ sex-related advice. She started out the show in a frank and engaging attempt at dialogue with the very small, very shy audience on the other side of three empty rows (we’d been warned about possible audience participation). When the crowd was dull, it seemed to take the wind out of her sails a bit but she persevered, telling stories and recreating women from across the US in accent and posture. The stories are somewhat mixed in tone, and in interestingness, but there really are just too many of them.
Another standout moment: Amma retells the story of her own experience of female circumcision. It’s lyrical and harrowing, and has great tone, pace and delivery. It’s about fifteen minutes of the show, and it’s by far the best and most interesting bit. The other stories are awfully long and I found them poorly differentiated, sometimes. There are long, distracting pauses sometimes, for no reason I could discern, and the show jumps from topic to topic. Many, many conversations are recounted that contain classic, close-your-legs-and-keep-them-closed style conversations, with only a few positive ones to redeem them, and at no point does Amma model what a good conversation could sound like until the very end, when it kind of felt too late.
The show ends so abruptly that it seemed to just stop, like our meter expired and the lights went, suddenly, off. The entire show, I wished for a director to take Amma in hand and help her gain the storytelling confidence she clearly possesses in other parts of the show. I also wished for a dramatuge to do some fine sorting and suggesting in the material. The show has a lot of promise, but feels only partially cooked at best. The show also experience assorted technical issues in the performance I saw, and the lights would periodically just go off on Amma mid-word and go on somewhere else on the stage, leaving Amma scrambling to find some light again. It wasn’t ideal. I hope Amma keeps working at What Mama Said About Down There until it becomes great, which is in the bones of the show.
Sadly, it didn’t get there in time for the Fringe.
July 04 at 05:15 PM
July 05 at 07:30 PM
July 07 at 03:00 PM
July 08 at 01:00 PM
July 09 at 02:00 PM
July 12 at 10:30 PM
Tickets for all mainstage productions are $10 at the door, cash only. Advance tickets are $12, and can be purchased online, by phone (416-966-1062), or from the festival box office at the Fringe Club. (Rear of Honest Ed’s, 581 Bloor St. West). Money-saving value packs are also available if you are going to at least five shows; see website for details.
LATECOMERS ARE NEVER ADMITTED TO FRINGE SHOWS. To avoid disappointment, be sure to arrive a few minutes before curtain.
Photo provided by the company.