By Mike Ward
Published: March 25, 2010
“Your ticket allows you to be an honorary Sri Lankan, gay, vegetarian. Now you can laugh at the pain!” And thus begins one of the most remarkable one-man shows to hit the Bay Area in ages. Ramble-ations: A One D’Lo Show, on Brava’s second stage, is performed by gay, vegetarian, transgendered, hip-hop artist D’Lo, and what a sublime, transcontinental journey of identity, culture and family it is. Rarely will you find an artist with such polymorphous skill at storytelling and performance, one who understands the gentle, quiet rhythms of masterfully drawing a moment out and bringing it back in without being overly self-indulgent. And this must-see show ends way too soon.
D’Lo takes us from Sri Lanka to Sri Lancaster, California, with stops along the way to inhabit the skins of his mother (or, his “Amma”); his sister’s best friend (a totally bitchin’ privileged self-absorbed Sri Lankan Barbie, whose mission in life is to show Sri Lankan women they can be almost nearly as gorgeous as she… well, not really, but they can try!); a grandfather who has delusions of being Gandhi with a penchant for drink; and a transgendered janitor in NYC who loves to hang out in the club.
But it is how D’Lo makes the connections of these characters, and the transformations are truly stunning. He blurs gender and age with the swathing of a red fabric and the placing of a gorgeous, long wig, suddenly becoming his mother. “I should have known when you preferred the G.I. Joe doll and the Tonka Trucks,” she muses in hindsight. But at that time her daughter — a then-female D’Lo — wasn’t gay. “I have seen the gays on television, and that is not my daughter. I have seen Ellen DeGeneres. And Rosie O’Donnell. And Martina Na… Martina Navra… Martina Navrahapatsumi,” as the mother gently struggles with what lies ahead for her daughter. And one admonishment stands out, “We didn’t leave a war-torn country for you to come her and get killed,” which fully acknowledges that a centuries-old civil war in a third-world nation was less of a risk than living gay in the United States.
This deeply-personal, yet Universal, story has more twists and turns than a tsunami. But D’Lo’s humor, pathos, and d’lightful d’meanor keep the audience engaged at all times, whether actively telling the story in real-time, or in one of the many video and slide montages that allow the narrative to continually move in a gentle yet-energized directive. This 90-minute travelogue of the psyche and soul is a voyage that audiences will walk away from moved and enlightened.
There are two minor drawbacks. The piece could be tightened with a more steady dramaturgical hand (at least 10 minutes could be deleted without impacting the powerful and intricately-woven pieces). And the uncomfortable chairs and temperature of the theatre made this too apparent. But don’t let this stop you. Instead, bring a small cushion and dress in layers.
Ramble-Ations closes soon! Male, female, male-to-female, female-to-male, ages old/middle/young, those straight, gay, bi, or skin-tone any of the colors of Benetton… this story is for you. Don’t miss out on the power that lies within each of us —self-love — as challenged by the world and one’s self.
Ramble-Ations continues until April 3 at Brava Theatre Center, 2781 24th Street, San Francisco. Tickets call (415) 647-2822 or at brava.org.