Aunt Dicey Channel Moms Mabley

I’m actually a fan of Nothando Zulu — I first saw her — I can’t remember which Fringe it was, but it was in a show at the Interact Center. She’s a key figure in the local Black Storytellers Alliance, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. She impressed me as one of those storytellers who’s been doing this long enough to have a wide enough repertory to adjust on the fly to any audience she has at any given moment — she shifted easily from folktale to memoir the evening that I attended.

This particular show isn’t a storytelling show at all, but a monologue — she wears a costume, uses dialect, and speaks in the first person. It’s a skilled performance, enough so that I actually found myself squirming a lot during the first half. It put me in mind of visiting older Chinese family members, and in that respect perfectly simulated the experience of spending an hour with one of your eccentric relatives: they’re charming and funny and you’re grateful for the time you get to spend with them and they drop bits of insight like drops of blood — and despite your best efforts, it’s hard not to weary of them very quickly.

Halfway through the show, either she hit her stride, or I did. She had her share of sad/funny material about growing older, but I particularly enjoyed her talking about her encounters with the modern world.

(One thing that strikes me — my parents, in stark contrast to the parents of many of those around me growing up in small-town Minnesota, seemed to adjust very gamely to the changing times around them. It strikes me that this may be because they’ve both been immigrants multiple times. They’re intimately familiar with the experience of culture shock. And it strikes me that even if we never leave the place of our birth, all of us sooner or later become immigrants through time.)

In any case, I would be curious to see just how much of her show is improvised — she comes off as an extremely spontaneous speaker.

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