.Sara Porkalob’s One-Woman Show Tackles Tough Topics

Memoirist Paul Lisicky once said, “When you are writing an elegy, it’s hard not to turn the lost one into a mythical figure.” Sara Porkalob’s new one-woman show, Dragon Lady, directed by Andrew Russell, certainly veers toward the mythical. Mill Valley’s Marin Theater Company, in association with Walnut Creek’s Center REP, has a production running through Dec. 17.

The first of three Dragon Cycle plays Porkalob has written that chronicle the women in her direct lineage, it’s the story of her karaoke-singing, chain-smoking, accidental gangster-moll and possibly murderous grandmother, Maria Senora. Told in a fourth-wall-breaking cabaret style, Maria recounts her life’s exploits to her favorite grandchild (Sara) through a mix of original and adapted music by the talented Pete Irving—including a fun rendition of “Gangsters Paradise.”

This production is a visual and auditory feast. Of particular note is Randy Wong-Westbrooke’s set design. Scarlet velveteen and lushly draped fabrics transform the live jazz band into a set piece by staging them as tantalizing silhouettes in a translucent cupboard.

Despite MTC’s misguided marketing touting this as a “funny and fearless family tale,” Porkalob has written an often-uncomfortable eulogy about the flesh and blood woman behind her mythologized grandmother. Through the tales, Porkalob chooses to have Maria Senora tell us we are plunged into the difficult task all descendants face when trying to merge our beloved predecessors with their complex and often problematic actions.

Another thing MTC doesn’t prepare its audience for through its insistence that this is a comedy is that though we have become inundated with “content and trigger warnings,” these things exist because of real pain, not just as buzzwords. So, in an effort to lessen another’s pain, be aware that if one also grew up in an abusive, neglectful household, the beginning of Act Two may feel like a sucker punch to the gut if one isn’t braced for it.

In the end, this is a highly personal exploration of Porkalob’s relationship with her past. And like all things highly personal, it’s impossible to give it a fair critique. So perhaps it’s best to go back to Lisicky, who, when asked what we owe our dead as artists, answered, “I’m not sure that we as writers owe our dead anything other than to make them interesting.”

Porkalob’s writing of Maria Senora is many things, not all of them nice, comfortable or funny, but all of them are interesting.

‘Dragon Lady’ runs Weds – Sun through Dec. 17 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Weds – Sat, 7:30pm; Sat & Sun, 2pm. $25-$67. 415.388.5208. marintheatre.org.

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