“Motherstruck!”— the astonishing one-woman, biographical theater piece by Staceyann Chin— doesn’t waste any time getting started. From the moment Ms. Chin enters the stage, her impact is like that of a 3-D graphic novel come to life on an IMAX screen. She opens with the childhood recollection of “The day I got my first period…”. Her no-nonsense, old-school auntie responded: “Keep your legs closed and your schoolbooks open. God will take care of the rest!” One of the young Jamaican girl’s earliest fears, unsurprisingly, was that she’d become pregnant. It’s amusing, then, that Ms. Chin’s later desire to become a mother would becoming an all-encompassing personal quest. For a single, out-and-proud lesbian without health insurance, realizing that dream would be a challenge. More specifically, it would be one challenge after another, some of them seemingly insurmountable. Chin’s determination, humor, and intelligence allowed her to face those challenges, and it’s the dynamic stage presence of the performer combined with tight direction by Cynthia Nixon that makes “Motherstruck!”– the animated version of that chapter of Chin’s life– so successful.
The passionate desire to have a child will make many women, and some men too, relate to Chin’s story on at least some level. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find a life story as unique as this Award-winning spoken-word poet, performing artist, and LGBT rights political activist. Chin left her home country, largely for the fact that the repressive atmosphere in her Jamaica at the time didn’t quite fit with her renegade artistic and humanistic views. Thankfully, she came to the United States and found a new home and family in the famously dynamic arts scene in New York City in the late ’90’s. It was also an era of her own personal sexual awakening: a time to experiment upon her self-described “explicit, unashamed fantasies”. As you may have guessed by now, Chin shares a LOT with her audience! We feel all warm and fuzzy inside when she recalls how, in 1999, she fell in love with a woman (Here comes the kick…) who also fell in love with her! We feel the heartbreak when she underwent the premature loss of a spouse who was taken way too soon. We feel the urgency that Chin, now newly single, felt when searching for an appropriate “baby daddy”. And we are both amused and titillated at Chin’s revelation of “hormonally induced madness and lesbian dreams at the same time”. The climax of “Motherstruck!”– Chin’s, shall we say, realization of the goal established by the show’s title– is one of the most quietly moving moments you’re likely to see on a New York City stage, enhanced by the intimacy of the small Lynn Redgrave Theater. However, don’t expect a force of nature like Staceyann Chin to consider her story tied up into a neat little package after this pivotal moment. That’s only Act 1! There are a LOT more climaxes on the way for the audience for the second half of the show…
Stacyeann Chin doesn’t waste a single word or movement throughout “Motherstruck!”, and her delivery hits her mark every time. It’s both comedy and tragedy– sometimes even in the same scene. One of those scenes made me realize that it takes an artist with true talent, stage presence, and an innate wit to make an audience break into laughter in the middle of a quiet, provocative moment. We don’t doubt that Staceyann has a lot more stories about her life to share, and we believe that regardless of any challenges she faces in the future, she will survive. The question is: Are we, the audience, strong enough to handle the emotions she provokes from us? Well, we can’t wait to find out!
“Motherstruck!” is now playing at New York City’s Lynn Redgrave Theater, 45 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10012 through January 29th. Visit www.CultureProject.org for tickets and more!