Snippets of newsreels fill the Haldane theatre as we take our seats. A cluttered stage offers glimpses of characters about to be revealed – perhaps an age, or an occupation. They are, it’s quickly apparent, representations of individuals whose accumulated losses are often shown in the News: minimised to statistics, or else heeded at largely once they have altered the system, like the generational impact of decades-long economic decline in middle America making headlines on Trump’s election. This bright spotlight of attention, followed by a move to more current affairs, cannot house the individual experience of grief. For Jessica Munna’s polemic narrator, the personal is political, and loss is the all-consuming elephant in the room. Her one-woman show explores these ideas in five character monologues from across the United States.
This piece of theatre hangs around under your fingernails long after you’ve left the theatre
These meticulously researched vignettes are plotted with great sensitivity from within various parts of a socio-political engine of loss: debt, opioid addiction, displacement. If they sometimes come across as a bit on the nose, then perhaps that self-awareness is part of the point Munna wishes to drive home. Her considerable range as a writer and performer is on full display as she pours herself into each new voice and physicality and colloquialisms with warmth and skill. The Appalachian Miner’s stoic erudition and awareness (and annoyance) and how people like us will see her contrast sharply with the Traveller’s bubbly, vivacious invitation to share her pride and delight in her family’s story. Each character address us in Brechtian style. They demand that we see them in the context of and in spite of lost dreams or jobs, and that we hold space for the sardonically funny and the gut wrenchingly sad (both abound). It’s at times an exposing position to be in as an audience member, but one I’m grateful to have experienced.
As uptight stoicism gives way to pain, and hints of if not systemic change then communal resilience emerge, Munna’s play doesn’t attempt to give closure to the dizzying questions it opens up. What it does create is a gripping, vulnerable and heartfelt a call to make time for one another’s loss in our own conversations. This piece of theatre hangs around under your fingernails long after you’ve left the theatre.