Sunday, February 12, 2006

No Pas Connin' (Cleveland Public Theatre)

Nina the Devine makes ‘No Pas Connin’ an enthralling experience at CPT

“We too poor to be depressed, we just pressed!” This humorous but poignant statement is but one of many thought-provoking ideas that fill the stage at Cleveland Public Theatre during ‘MO PAS CONNIN OR TORMENT, Nina Domingue’s one woman show.

Nina Domingue is one of the finest actresses in Cleveland. As evidenced by ‘MO PAS CONNIN OR TORMENT,’ she is also a talented playwright.

The experience (it is more than a play) is set in New Orleans. It centers on Miriam Waters, a 65-year-old former priestess of the goddess Mami Wata and her attempt to reconcile with her family. In the process we meet 8 other souls whose own stories are interwoven with Miriam’s. We also learn a lot about the Big Easy before the hurricanes destroyed much of the culture of the city.

Domingue is a native New Orleanian. She is black, Catholic and the daughter of a woman who committed suicide when Domingue was 4. The twenty-something Domingue relates that the play is based on the ghosts that populate her life. As the beginning line of the script states, “I don’t know what it is that torments me so.” That torment is contained in the title of show which translates from Creole as “I don’t know.”

It is interesting to note that in New Orleans, the word “black” does not connote the same as it does in the north. There is or were 152 classes of “colored folks” in that city. Many have experienced institutional racism in the schools, churches, and in their daily lives. For example, Jasmine, a young school child, is called “colored” by her teacher. She reacts with the statement, “Everybody is a color, ” which gets her sent from the room for being disrespectful. Her mother, a college professor, is talked down-to when she comes to discuss the matter with the “white” teacher, even though the mother has a higher education.

Domingue creates all the characters with quick fragmented costume changes and different hair arrangements. At no time is there any difficulty understanding who she is portraying as she also has a wonderful gift for adapting her vocal sounds and body.

As has become the expectation of “Nina The Divine,” a multi-Times Tribute Award winner and last year’s Cleveland Theater Collective’s “Best Actress in a Play,” this is a masterful performance. There are many highlights, but a major one is when she stands weeping on stage while portraying Christine, the character most like the actress and author, and relates the death of her mother. She intones, “In the Catholic Church, everything is the devil, and suicide is this great sin. After her death, nobody could even talk about her, and she couldn’t be buried in sacred ground. She is buried where no one knows.” (Her mother suffered from post-partum depression.)

The play is directed by Hassan Rogers, Domingue’s father-in-law, with total understanding, an eye for small details, and proper pacing of what could be a confusing experience.

Richard Morris, Jr.’s scene and lighting designs and Allison Garrigan’s costumes all add to the total positive effect.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: There are few actress in the country who could carry off this magnificent performance. If Domingue doesn’t present it, the odds of seeing it are remote. My recommendation--GO SEE ‘MO PAS CONNIN OR TORMENT.’ I GUARANTEE, YOU WILL BE AWED!