“How do you hold onto noteworthy memories?” asks Nicole Maxali at the beginning of Forgetting the Details, part of the New York International Fringe Festival. One way is to do a solo show about them!
Although some aspects of the piece are not rendered as complexly as they could be, the autobiographically-based performance remains a funny and heartfelt exploration of the author’s Filipino American family.
The show centers on Maxali’s relationships with her father and paternal grandmother. Her mother gets a featured role in the performance’s initial story, then oddly fades away as the main narrative takes shape. Following her parents’ divorce, it was the writer/performer’s grandmother—affectionately referred to as Lola—who raised her. The girl’s mother attended night school and worked three jobs, while her musician father Max went into rehab for drug addiction.
Maxali tells an endearing tale early on about how Lola would visit her during elementary school recess and hand out ice cream to Nikki and all of her friends—as well as kids who might want to be her friends in order to get the free ice cream! While a source of embarrassment at the time, Nikki (as her family calls her) later came to appreciate her grandmother’s devotion. The story contrasts sharply with a later account of Lola’s Alzheimer’s-related dementia.
At several points in the performance, Maxali takes on the personas of her grandmother and father. She tends to indicate the roles, relying on broad mannerisms and speech patterns such as a Filipino accent for Lola and a hippie-like characterization for her pot-smoking Dad that makes frequent use of the word “man” to begin nearly every sentence.
In one speech, Lola addresses her frustration about not being believed when she assures her granddaughter that she is fine. Max gets an angry monologue in which he vents about how he is now saddled with his mother’s care. However, these glimpses into their inner lives are fleeting, and a little more character development could help to ground Maxali’s stories even further.
I would also like to see the author take a closer look into the way she depicts herself as the autobiographical narrator. She doesn’t really interrogate her own faults, which makes her tales about her contentious relationship with her father come across as somewhat one-sided.
What the script does have in its favor are a number of amusing and insightful observations. The most profound comes towards the end of the piece as Maxali talks about how her father showed her an outdoor mural that he worked on. He had to learn not to be obsessed over getting every little thing right—which gives a different meaning to the show’s title than just a reference to Lola’s Alzheimer’s. “Sometimes we get so caught up in the small details that we let fear in,” she tells us. “When we choose to step back from the wall and to forget the details, we finally see the bigger picture.”
That picture allows for compassion and for forgiveness—an important reminder for anyone with unresolved feelings towards a loved one, particularly once that person has passed on.
Forgetting the Details, part of the New York International Fringe Festival, performs at The White Box at 440 Studios (440 Lafayette Street) through August 23. Tickets are $18 in advance, $24 at the door. The show plays a variable schedule. For more information, visit www.nicolemaxali.com or www.fringenyc.org.
For more of my FringeNYC coverage, also check out my list of shows with Asian or Asian American connections and reviews of Nisei and Princess Pyunggang on this blog, my preview of LGBT-inclusive works that I wrote for GLAAD, and my NiteLife Exchange reviews of MANish BOY, No One Asked Me, Bedroom Secrets, and Joel Creasey: Rock God.