The title of this show clearly suggests that it’s a fitting play for these pandemic times. And in some ways, it clearly is, though the word “pandemic” never appears in the hour-long monologue presented here.
Oh yes, a monologue. Many would argue it takes a rather brave performer to step up and deliver a full-length monologue that runs just over an hour. True, the bravery needed gets dialed back a bit in a time of online productions when the sole performer doesn’t have to make and maintain contact with an audience sitting just meters away. Be that as it may, Alice Yorke gave a strong performance capturing the emotional roller coaster that the play’s central character and sole narrator, Katie, is sent along.
Katie is a librarian who has had a lifelong love of books. She’s spent her life in Newport, Wales, which just happens to be the hometown of the play’s author, Siân Owen. Katie may be a self-confessed bibliophile, but she doesn’t live largely within the pages of books. As her monologue reveals, she has a rather rich and exciting real life. For one thing, she’s the devoted single mom of a young daughter with a congenital heart problem. Katie and her daughter (who Katie only refers to as the Little One) live with her mother, and their homelife is filled with many points of friction between Katie and her mother. The resulting squabbles provide Katie with enough incentives to get out of the home and onto the streets and hills of Newport.
Her adventures when she leaves the home make up most of How To Be Brave. Her wanderings around her hometown develop into an engaging odyssey that Katie reports on in vivid details. In fact, as Katie makes her way through her day, we’re slightly reminded of another modern updating of the Odyssey myth by a talented Celt author: James Joyce’s Ulysses. As Joyce transformed the seemingly mundane doings of his hero Leopold Bloom into gripping adventures, Siân Owen turns the errands, slips and slides of her heroine into a tale that is full of adventure.
Admittedly, Katie’s odyssey is minor key compared to those of Bloom and Odysseus, but playwright Owen skillfully weaves the one day in the life of Katie into a narrative that keeps us absorbed all the way through. As Katie makes her way through different sections of Newport, she encounters numerous challenges and challengers. Certain locales fling her back into childhood memories where bullies stalked the terrain and friends would disappoint as often as they delivered. Along her journey through Newport, Katie manages to “borrow” a BMX bike (without first consulting its owner about the loan) and then revisit places from her youth where she now restages fears and disappointments as triumphs of the female spirit.
Owen serves up an array of scenes that are wonderfully rich and often comical. She never lets the narrative lag as she traces the arc of Katie’s one-day journey into a fuller insight into her roles as daughter and mother and a deeper appreciation of her life and all that fills it. (But let me not conclude without a bit of nitpicking: some of the incidents Katie reports on do seem stretched and somewhat overdone. But then again, the best ones also approach the edges of being too much.)
At the beginning of the play, Little One informs her mother that a male playmate has told her that girls can’t be superheroes. And why? Because you need to be brave to deliver the goods that define super-heroism, and females are simply incapable of that kind of bravery. The play then proceeds to knock that argument into a deep ditch as Little One, Katie’s mother and – especially – Katie herself show themselves to be capable of impressive bravery.
This edition of How To Be Brave was the work of Inis Nua, the local theatre company that specializes in bringing contemporary plays from the British Isles to the Philadelphia area. Inis Nua’s founding artistic director Tom Reing took on the role of director here and did an altogether admirable job of seeing that the monologue works as an absorbing piece of theatre. (Not an easy task, believe me.) The character of Katie was brought to life by Alice Yorke, and I’ve already said that her performance was commendably strong. Yorke must share a bit of this praise with dialect coach Leonard Kelly. I found Yorke’s Welsh accent convincing enough that I needed to consult the program to discover that she is a Philadelphia-based actress.
Director Reing also needs to share a bit of the praise with director of photography Michael Long. Long employed green screen technology and his own creative skills to provide a series of virtual backgrounds that put us in the places and situations Katie finds herself in. These visual backdrops were a significant part of the success of this Inis Nua production.
How To Be Brave will be offered again April 22 -25. Tickets are available on a pay-what-you-choose basis during the Philly Theatre Week. Once you’ve acquired a ticket, you can log on to see the show at any time during the period for which you have your ticket. To purchase the ticket(s), go to the Inis Nua website or their listing on the Theatre Philadelphia website.