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By Mark Brians. February 9, 2015 - 11:03 am
I draw-up a chair at a table in the shade provided by the jonquil umbrellas at the Crêpe Café, and wait. I notice a couple at a window table with a third chair pulled up close. They look as if expecting somebody. I wonder if they are my interview, briefly considering whether or not I look the part of a journalist; considering all the various literary ways we compose the features of people we have never met.
“Are you Mark?” The woman at the table under the window asks me. She is dressed simply: blue blouse, jeans, white tennis shoes.
“Yes, I am” I reply as I shake her hand, and follow her over to the table. I was the expected party for whom the third chair remained vacant.
Rebecca Lea McCarthy is a self-proclaimed newcomer to Hawaii, having just recently moved here from the greater Seattle area. She has been acting since she was six appearing in commercials and theater productions through high school going-on to receive a BFA in acting from Cornish College.
Even in the short residency on island, she managed to win a 2014 Po’okela for lead actress in The Actor’s Group production of Resistance!
She has a PhD in Comparative Studies and currently works as an adjunct instructor at Hawaii Pacific, holding a few other online teaching posts as well. But that is not why I am scheduled to do an interview with her. That is not why I now occupy the once-vacant seat beneath the window stickered with photographs of crêpes the size of my abdomen, below the glaring effulgence of the faux-neon OPEN sign.
Rather, I am here to listen as McCarthy talks about her upcoming performance in the Oahu Fringe Festival where she will perform what she describes as a “one woman theatrical experience” Singing the Diaphragm Blues and Other Sexual Cacophonies, adapted from her memoir of the same title.
Although she had been involved in theater since she was child, she remembers a moment that marked major turning point in her career:
“I had the chance to train for the Olympics in running… I had the fastest time in Arizona at my age…” she tells me.
The coach of the Olympic team at the time approached her trainer and her mother while at the same time, McCarthy had been invited to join a theater called the Tom Thumb Front Row Players. The two options, containing within them two separate worlds were set before her.
“So I had a choice… “ she recalls, “I could either, uh, try to train for the Olympics and I would have been given a lot of good things… or I could do this theater [sic]… and I chose the theater between the two because that’s where I felt the most joy.”
Her play deals with difficult, deeply personal issues –issues that are easily left hidden and secret. Diaphragm Blues mixes autobiography from McCarthy’s life with anecdotes, and other stories, blurring the boundaries between fiction and fact, inviting the audience to hold discourse on dangerous topics like sexuality, coming of age, womanhood and body-identity within the safety created by humor and theater.
“It is risky. It is dangerous. But I think that’s why we have a rape culture –is that people are too afraid to talk about it… the victims as well as the perpetrators… I wanted to find a way to take some of that threat away.”
She adds that even if some people disagree with the views presented in the performance and find that McCarthy’s taste for pushing the envelope isn’t their cup o’ tea, that still, her goal is met so long as she manages to provoke some honest conversation; to provoke that dialectical processes which our culture once held dear; the thinking produced in the fusion of more than one voice in communion. Women’s issues, she reminds me, aren’t just for women. Men must learn not only to value women in some remote way, but to understand the importance of the issues which are of importance to women.
The man sitting next to her in the loose fitting aloha shirt, I find out, is not her husband. His name is Dale Westgaard, MFA. He is her director and long time friend who helped transpose the piece for stage and arrived just two days prior to our meeting in order to succor McCarthy by helping prepare for the production and supporting her through its multiple-night execution.
He carries in his wake a long litany of directorial experiences throughout the Mid and Northwestern regions of the US. He sits just to my right, a cut of lime green smartphone case provides visual relief, and plays-off the soft eyes behind his glasses, like a splash of handkerchief in some gentleman’s breast pocket in the magazines I cannot afford to purchase. He is a gentle, older man, whose kind voice and mustached button nose afford him an air of the humble erudition.
He tells me that he hopes the performance at Fringe will result in further bookings, close together. He explains that considering the intense effort that goes into such a project, it is deeply rewarding to line-up a string of shows together.
Of course, as he reminds me, each and every production is a kind of resurrection; a bringing back to life of the show. However, the strength of that resurrection-power, the electrical force one must conjure, is greater the longer the show remains un-played.
This is not art criticism. I have not seen the play, and do not pretend to appraise what I have not seen. Neither is this a public relations bit: advertising carefully dolled-up to read like news for American audiences who glory in their plasticity.
It is a story, a moment in a much larger narrative. The reflected interview over thirty-odd minutes as one person’s cup of coffee grew cold. It contains the hopes of two artists who will, daringly present the fruit of their co-labor to audiences this coming weekend.
It is, moreover, an insight into the artistic heart, which longs to make something beautiful; longs to offer this beauty to the economy of meaning which is, in our time, growing hidebound.
Oahu Fringe Festival Information:
Ong King Art Center, 184 North King Street, Honolulu, HI 96817
Thursday February 12, 2015, 6 PM Friday February 13, 2015, 7:30 PM Saturday February 14, 2015, 6 PM
Tickets available online at http://www.oahufringe.com: $10 (Online Fees Apply)
For more information call: 206-501-6703.
Photos courtesy of Mark Brians and the Oahu Fringe Festival.