Wednesday, November 05, 2014

An Odyssey From The Streets of Queens to Harvard Square: Jeannette Bayardelle Tells The Story of "SHIDA"

Jeannette Bayardelle as SHIDA

I was not sure that it was possible for Jeannette Bayardelle to improve upon the blockbuster performances she gave in her one woman show, "SHIDA," when it played Off-Broadway in the summer of 2013.  But what I experienced at last evening's Dress Rehearsal at the A.R.T.'s Oberon left me even more breathless than I had felt the first few times I let the power of this story wash over me.

Everything I said in my initial review of the New York version of the show still stands:

Original Blog Review of SHIDA

But, I need to add several layers of commentary.  It struck me that in addition to everything else that this story may be, it is also a female Odyssey.  The "home" from which Shida departs - her Ithaca, if you will - is her dream of growing up to become a writer.  On her journey through life, she battles the Cyclops of Crack Cocaine, the Siren Song of her he/she lover, Toni, calling her to abandon her Saturday morning creative writing classes so she can party harder on Friday nights, and the Scylla and Charybdis of sexual abuse and prostitution.  It takes the undying and unflinching friendship of Jackie to call her back home to her dream.In a sense, Shida's Odyssey is the embodiment of a quotation by G.K. Chesterton, "There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk around the whole world till we come back to the same place."

Jeannette Bayardelle as SHIDA

The Oberon performance space is set up as a cabaret with tables laid out on the main floor.  This arrangement allows the actress to interact more intimately with the audience at an appropriate point in the story than was possible in a more traditional setting of the audience sitting in rows.  The wider stage of the Oberon also gives more elbow room for Jeannette to transform into the six characters she represents.  Each character is distinctive, and at any given moment in the storm, the audience has no problem discerning which character the actress is portraying.  She imbues each one with a distinctive physiognomy, posture, gaze, gesticulation and vocal timbre.  Her transitions from one to another are instantaneous and mind-blowing.  She credits the strong direction of Andy Sandberg with her ability to make those rapid changes without experiencing whiplash.

Those characters are:

  • Shida, the title character whose dream of becoming a writer is hijacked by multiple forces
  • Jacky, Shida's best friend since middle school who will not give up on her suicidal friend
  • Shida's Mom, who battles unfaithful men and a body that succumbs too early to cancer.
  • Shida and Jacky's nurturing teacher who also never gives up on Shida
  • Toni, the he/she lover who derails Shida for a season
  • Joe, the "snowflake" boyfriend who takes Shida to "heaven" and steals her most cherished possession.
If I were Jeannette Bayardelle's teacher and were asked to provide a report card for this show, this is what it would look like:

Writing of the story - A
Writing the music - A
Acting out the story - A+
Singing the story - A+
Touching the audience at a deep place - A+

And this report card is without the grade inflation that occasionally takes place around Harvard Square!

At this evening's performance, I was accompanies by several professional actors and acting students. These folks are tough to impress, and they were in awe of what they had witnessed.  They were moved by the story and astonished by the technical brilliance that Ms. Bayardelle brings to these performances.

Jeannette Bayardelle as SHIDA

There are very limited tickets available for the remaining shows at the Oberon tonight, Thursday night and Friday night.  If you want to try to snag one of the last remaining tickets, click on this link:

American Repertory Theater/Shida



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