Lifeline Theatre presents Fillet of Solo, a festival which celebrates Chicago’s storytelling and live lit scene. 14 storytelling collectives and solo performances come together for a three-week, multi-venue performance of personal stories.
I had the distinct privilege of seeing a couple solo performances that were part of the Fillet of Solo Festival, both at the Heartland Studio Theater (which Google Maps refuses to recognize as a real place). The theater does not have much space in the lobby area, so be prepared to wait outside if you get to your show early. The performances occurred on a small black box stage, and both were well-attended so I sat very close to other audience members.
Final festival performance: Friday January 22nd, 7 p.m.
Muthaland is a solo show written and performed by Minita Gandhi and directed by Heidi Stillman. It tells the darkly comedic story of an Indian-American woman named Minita and her struggles with culture, identity, spirituality, and sexuality. I should emphasize that this is a dark comedy with some descriptions of violence that may merit a trigger warning.
Gandhi is a talented performer who engaged the audience immediately. The performance featured a surprising contrast between what I’d think of as traditional Indian music and Taylor Swift hits. I was pleasantly surprised to hear The LEGO Movie’s anthem, “Everything Is Awesome.” The combination of Indian music and contemporary American pop music illustrated Minita’s dual cultural identity.
Muthaland‘s story-line plays on the idea of expectations versus reality with regard to sexual and spiritual experiences, and the intentions of the people closest to us. Gandhi works through her Bollywood expectations of India in order to find peace within herself. I was particularly impressed by Gandhi’s use of voices, accents, and postures to differentiate amongst the cast of at least 10 characters.
Where Is My Goddamn Coconut: and Other Musings of a Small Brown Woman
Final festival performance: Saturday January 23rd, 4 p.m.
Where Is My Goddamn Coconut explores depression, body image, and cultural identity through a French talking mime character played by Anu Bhatt. The audience is invited to take a Starburst from a basket at the front of the stage before the show and keep it.
Bhatt’s performance had the physicality of a beginning mime routine with energetic blocking, lots of dancing, and a pantomimed “montage.” For a story involving body image, Bhatt made me want to get up and dance myself.
The story is framed by the poem by Swami Vivekananda, “Hold On Yet A While, Brave Heart” which appears throughout the various stages of Bhatt’s life as a motivational tool and inspiration through difficult times.
In the end, Bhatt breaks through the protective layer of the French accented mime, creating an intensely poignant moment which brought me to tears. Bhatt leads the audience in a Starburst “toast” as a reminder, “I don’t have to be perfect, I just gotta show up.”
Fillet of Solo Festival runs for 2 more weekends, January 22-31 at Lifeline Theatre and Heartland Studio Theatre. There is free parking. Tickets are $10 for each performance, and Festival Passes are available for $50. Tickets can be purchased from the Lifeline Theatre box office or online.