IN MY CHAIR: A Journey of a Thousand Miles
A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis
By: Virginia Rep/Cadence Theatre Company
At: Theatre Gym, Virginia Repertory Center, 114 W. Broad St., RVA 23220
Performances: March 2-31, 2019 with talkbacks on March 10 & 17
Ticket Prices: Single tickets start at $35
Info: (804) 282-2620 or va-rep.org
It is hard to think of In My Chair, a one-woman show written and performed by Eva DeVirgilis, as a play. Yes, it’s produced by the Cadence Theatre Company, under the artistic direction of Anna Senechal Johnson. Yes, it has a director – Lisa Roth, co-artistic director of The Actor’s Center in New York – and all the other accoutrements of a play: minimal scenic design and a variety of photographic and video projections by Tennessee Dixon; costume design by Sarah Grady; some evocative lighting design by Andrew Bonniwell; and some subtle and authentic sound design by Robbie Kinter. And it is performed in a theater, before an audience, but. . .
In My Chair is part Ted Talk, part therapy, part intervention, part standup comedy, part self-care. . .I could go on. Based on the true stories of women who have sat in DeVirgilis’ make-up chair – which is both the center of the set and a character on its own – In My Chair is told in the first person. After the success of her Tedx Talk on the same subject, actor and makeup artist DeVirgilis set out on a world tour to ask the question, “What is Beauty?” while comparing cross-cultural attitudes towards body image, body shaming, self-esteem, ever-changing beauty standards, and the peculiar phenomena of preventive defense and normative discontent that overwhelmingly affect women all over the world.
I’m sorry. My hair is a mess. I’m so fat. I hope I don’t break your chair. When I look in the mirror, I look old. OMG. That last statement could have been mine. For some time now, I have told myself – and occasionally said aloud to others – that when I look in the mirror, I see my grandmother looking back at me.
DeVirgilis uses the familiar landscape of the make-up chair to empower women. It can be as simple as learning not to dropkick the gift of a compliment. I remember telling a friend I liked her hair. Her response was to tell me it needed washing. That’s dropkicking the gift of a compliment. Stop apologizing. Say it louder for those in the back: STOP APOLOGIZING!
To create In My Chair DeVirgilis took her makeup chair to Nevis, Thailand, Malaysia, Ireland, and more. She spoke with women who wear hijabs, a cancer survivor, sex workers, a journalist. She gave a note of encouragement to a nun accompanying a deaf woman on a London subway car and brings each one of these women to life with a voice, an accent, and perhaps a scarf, a change of shoes, or a few gestures of their own. All the while, she is shadowed by Norma – the manifestation of her own insecurities and normative discontent. DeVirgilis is not new to multi-character solo shows, but this one blends her gift for comedy and her acting skills with her passion for activism and a real-life mission to help women.
She comes into the audience, coaching one woman through the affirmation, “I am a leader,” while the rest of the audience responds, “We support you!” The audience is also prompted to chant “Whoo” or “Boo” after a series of statements that link significant events in history to women’s beauty standards. Sometimes we laugh because the statements and DeVirgilis herself are hilarious, and sometimes we laugh because the only other thing to do would be to cry. Heartfelt, gripping, hilarious – sometimes all at the same time.
After the show, audience members are encouraged to write PositivePostPal messages and leave them in a bag – and to take a message from the bag. Some are as simple as, “You are beautiful.” I pulled one that said, “Ahlan wa Sahlan (welcome in Arabic).” In My Chair runs 90 minutes without intermission, and as part of the Acts of Faith Theatre Festival there will be talkbacks after the show on March 10 and March 17.
FYI: Here is a link to Eva’s TEDx talk: https://youtu.be/gto6w0a13B0
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
Photo Credits: Jason Collins Photography