A near-capacity crowd at Campbell Hall last night heard the varied voices of Brooklyn – from an Italian cop to a Jewish grandmother to a wannabe MC – all spoken from one mouth.
Sarah Jones brought her latest one-woman show, “Surface Transit,” to UCSB Wednesday night. She performed eight monologues as seven different Brooklyn residents during the two-hour performance. Jones last came to UCSB in February, when Campbell Hall was also near full for “Waking the American Dream.”
Her characters during Wednesday’s performance included a “crazy” homeless woman, an immigrant Russian mother, a black English woman auditioning for an MTV VJ position and the leader of a “rhymers anonymous” support group. The portrayals often drew laughter, but also raised issues including society’s acceptance of race and sexuality and increasing materialism.
While the monologues were separate, story lines intertwined. Jones portrayed a single immigrant mother who struggled to raise her child and make it to work on time, then took the part of the employer who fired her after she was late. One monologue featured a young woman tearfully recounting a sexual assault and the next featured the alleged perpetrator telling a story about how the woman was “all over” him.
A white businessman character commented on how much he loved what Rudolph Giuliani had done for New York, while a black homeless woman lamented the changes under “Rudolph Mussolini.”
About a quarter of the audience stayed after the show for a question-and-answer session with Jones. An audience member asked where Jones studied theater.
“Never. I’ve had no formal training,” she said. “Do you not love me anymore?”
Jones credited her upbringing in the diverse atmosphere of New York as critical in developing her ability to portray varied characters.
“I had a somewhat unusual experience because there were such mixed voices around me,” she said. “Because I occupy this body, I am supposed to occupy a certain space in society. I like playing with those boundaries.”
Another audience member asked Jones, who has recorded music before and incorporates hip-hop into her monologues, how she felt about the remixing and sampling of old hits.
“I don’t have much respect for the Puffy and Biggie take on ‘Missing You,’ when they pretty much just took Sting’s song,” Jones said, “because that’s not a new idea.”
Jones then digressed to the issue of music file sharing online.
“I worry that the real reason the industry is up in arms about things like Napster has little to do with the artists,” she said. “Because they built their multi-billion dollar empire exploiting artists and their creativity.”
Jones focused on corporate wrongdoing throughout the performance and question-and-answer session.
“People like AOL Time Warner, or whatever they’re called now, are pushing this business agenda, and it’s a mostly anti-people agenda,” she said. “I just find people so beautiful, it’s almost painful. Particularly when I think of our potential.”
Jones concluded the performance in the same character she began it, the “crazy” old homeless woman. As she limped off the stage she said, “Until all of us is right, none of us is right, in the goddamned richest country in the world.”