It takes a certain dedication and talent to put on a long, propless one-woman show. The sheer amount of memorization required is mind blowing — not to mention the writing of it all in the first place. Using the bias of a one-sided first person narrative as a trap to lure an audience in as co-conspirators, a good monologue is a journey into someone else’s unique psyche.
Before I dive into Jen Spillane’s latest Fringe work, “The Last Drag,” a few words on the Art Academy of Cincinnati (the venue): It’s a school. The normal classroom lighting is harsh and fluorescent, the seating is decidedly utilitarian. The chairs had mini-desks you could fold up and over your lap to take notes or set your drink on. With that said, Spillane’s linguistic reverie, all 50 minutes of it, transformed the space into an old-timey speakeasy or a cabaret. I could almost hear the creak of hardwood floors and the tinkle of pennies collected in a tin can.
“The Last Drag” ostensibly tells the story of the narrator, whom we meet intimately but never learn their name. Spillane’s delivery is a flowing lyrical monotony, with a far greater reading level than your standard discourse. I jotted down words like penury, alacrity, licentious.
I scribbled quotes like:
“When childhood leaves a girl, it leaves some scars,” and, “I was stuck in a sailor suit with a limp kitty.”
Every so often, and to start the show, Spillane would deliver spoken word poetry, almost exclusively monotone, but with a rapid rhythm. Many times, I could not coerce my ears and brain into keeping up, and I would simply try to follow along the gist of the delivery. It was impressive to witness but hard to comprehend. Perhaps that was the point.
Raised by a whore named Mama in rural nowhere, our anti-heroine weaves a life of absurd exposure and rigid discipline followed by much darker encounters. Dressed as a cross between a geisha and your aunt with several-too-many cats, Spillane’s character enraptures.
For anyone looking to expand their vocabulary and get a taste for a life you couldn’t hope to have lived yourself, I recommend “The Last Drag.” Catch it June 4 at 6:30 p.m., June 7 at 7 p.m. or on June 8 at 8:30 p.m. at the Art Academy.
John David Back is a Cincinnati native who lives and works in OTR. He’s an avid reader and a mediocre writer who loves the experience of art and beauty. Tell him what he should experience and send fan mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.