Marilee Talkington, the writer and performer of Truce at the Noh Space. Photo by Andrew Lu.
You could describe Marilee Talkington in a number of ways, starting with the fact that she is going blind. She is partially sighted, visually impaired, visually handicapped, sensorily challenged; she has low vision or no vision. She has been called Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Helen Keller. And those are only a few of the descriptions that come up in Talkington’s compelling 90-minute solo show Truce at San Francisco’s Noh Space.
After seeing the show, other descriptions that come to mind: dynamic actor, intriguing writer and astonishingly deft performer.
Developed with Justin Quinn Pelegano (who directed it in New York), Truce is about Talkington’s view of the world, which began physically to deteriorate when she was a child, the result of rod-cone dystrophy, a degenerative disorder passed on to her from her mother, who is also legally blind. The center of Talkington’s vision is completely blind, and her peripheral vision is growing ever more blind. With corrective lenses (which she doesn’t wear until the curtain call), Talkington has some vision, but to watch her on the stage (with set and lights by Andrew Lu), the way she navigates a rolling stool and dances around, you wouldn’t know she had any difficulties at all.
As she says, on stage is where she feels most in control, and it shows. This American Conservatory Theater-trained actor seizes the stage—and her audience.
Director Marissa Wolf (artistic director of Crowded Fire) and Talkington create a fluid production that melds dance (choreography by Sonya Smith), projections and autobiography to particularly potent effect. As we get to know Talkington, we discover a vivacious woman whose enthusiasm and anger have been tempered by shifting attitudes about what it means to be blind, how to embrace (or shun) the blind community and how to blame (or not) the mother that handed down this blind sentence. The issues surrounding her mother and her mother’s stern attitude toward handling a disability in the world (and how the world handles your disability) are especially complex and fascinating.
Just when Talkington is on the verge of becoming too strident, or if self-pity starts creeping in, Talkington and Wolf shift the tone. Dreadful high school years are enlivened by a passion for basketball. “I was a force of nature, probably because I had a little bit of an anger problem,” she says. Or when she describes visiting her classical music-loving grandparents, she erupts into a passionate dance to “Carmina Burana” that is a definite highlight of the evening.
What makes this more than just another autobiographical solo show is Talkington’s effort to help us see the world through her eyes – literally. The entire show is performed behind a scrim, so our view of her is blurred. At the center of the scrim is a video projection meant to blur and block whatever’s behind it. The center of our viewpoint, like Talkington’s, grows more and more obscured, forcing focus onto the powerful honesty of her voice, which has so much to say, so much to offer in the ways of seeing the world in an entirely different way.
Watch a video about Truce here.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Marilee Talkington’s Truce continues an extended run through April 10 at the Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa St., San Francisco. Tickets are $12-$25. Visit www.vanguardianproductions.com or www.brownpapertickets.com.