All About the World of Wanda

With You The Rest Of…

Written and Performed by Lenora Champagne
at Downtown Art Co. New York City
Reviewed by Wanda Phipps

In Lenora Champagne’s solo piece WITH YOU THE REST OF…the floor is covered with huge black and white tiles resembling a chessboard on which Ms. Champagne portrays scenes from the lives of three women. The set houses a miniature casio keyboard, pineapple tree, a tiny shack, clothesline, telephone pole, a stack of newspapers and one wall of religious icons representing a chapel. In this setting peopled with symbolic objects, we become privy to the private thoughts of three women and their distinct world-views.

First we’re introduced to Shirlene, the comic center of the piece. She’s a housewife who seems to be the personification of traditional, southern convention gone a little haywire, a southern matriarch without a legacy of wealth or a plantation to run. Shirlene often enters and exits her house with her hat on top of her head and her fingers on top of her hat–seemingly poised at the beginning of a propeller motion that never ends—as if she might at any minute begin to spin, build up speed and lift off the ground solely under the power of her tomato red hat. At one point she screams at the top of her lungs, “I’m the mother…I’m the mother of all mothers.” Which leads us to Earline, Shirlene’s daughter, the carrier of art and intellect. She swaggers in and out of the piece reciting bad poetry and chain smoking like a prepubescent Bette Davis. In one of Earline’s revisionist fairy tales Snow White has an unlisted phone number and spends her time waxing nostalgic about her life with the dwarves.

Juanita, the third woman, is inhabited by the spirit of magical/mytho-religious visions.

Champagne plays all three female characters in the piece who are tied together by one absent man. Shirlene and Juanita are married to him and Earline is his daughter. To Shirlene and Earline he’s known as Julius while in Juanita’s world Julius becomes Julio.

I admire Champagne’s clever use of theatrical devices such as Shirlene and Earline’s dialog over the clothesline. She plays both characters in conversation on wash day with a hat representing the mother and a book standing in for the daughter.

At first I thought these three were stereotypes of helpless, abandoned women waiting for their absent man. But, soon I began to see that their methods of coping with the hysterical world around them were stronger and more imaginative, more vibrantly alive than anything they could ever dream of getting from Julius/Julio. They found ways to view the world (even through frightful suffering) as a place of sparkling wonder and fascination. Juanita achieves transcendence through her amazing visions, Shirlene through imagination and empathy while Earline triumphs through her burgeoning art.

The piece is filled with images of birds and butterflies symbolizing these seemingly wounded women who become survivors through flights of imagination, spirit, art and intellect. It’s an amusing, whimsical and illuminating mix of poetic language and surrealistic visions threaded through a stream of reports of current events and ongoing struggles to resolve family conflicts.

Here the outer world of politics and world affairs are interpreted through personal crises: Earline sees a news story about boy’s brutal murder as proof of the cruelty of the world that she, as a young woman, is about to be thrust into. And at one point Shirlene claims “My husband left me because of Bush.”

In WITH YOU THE REST OF…Champagne explores the creative friction that occurs when myriad interpretations of world events smash up against the day-to-day actualities of the lives of individuals. She moves gracefully through her surreal landscape with the kind of charm and humor that we could all use in dealing with the hyper-realities of daily life in the nineties.

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