Edinburgh Fringe 2018
This piece is a brilliant exploration of five different female narratives on love, betrayal, and liberation, expertly performed by one woman with a minimalist shape-shifting costume and gorgeous, innovative live cello accompaniment. At times darkly comedic, other times heartbreaking, the piece is exactly the kind of nuanced and unique work the Fringe ought to be celebrating more.
Generally speaking, Fringe shows best succeed when they are crafted with the festival in mind: minimal sets, simple tech, small cast, and a maximum run time of an hour. Tonight I Sleep… is one such exceedingly effective work that should not be missed, and with an enticingly tightly run time of 45 minutes, it’s easy to fit in one’s schedule. Mesmerizingly performed by Kelsey Yuhara, who shifts and sometimes sings to Jari Piper’s flawless cello accompaniment, this is a polished, enthralling piece that sucks you in entirely to its stories.
The piece moves through five different monologues, all by women who have experienced some kind of love, betrayal, and discontent. These are familiar stories, eternal stories– the woman scorned– and the performance acknowledges the tradition from which it draws, ironically peppering in jazz standards about love, just when the narrative’s about to turn dark. Yuhara performs with razor-sharp physical precision in her beautifully minimalist costume– a sheath of flexible white fabric that she adjusts and drapes into various structural configurations to transform into her different characters. Somehow this piece of fabric completely elevates the piece with its theatrical alchemy: each move deliberately choreographed, Yuhara becomes a standing, Grecian statue of female elegance. Then the piece shifts, and suddenly she’s an aged woman with an apron. As with the costume, the cello plays a crucial role in filling out the storytelling, and fulfills every need as a minimal sound design. Piper offers lyrical beauty and familiar love songs as the monologues wax romantic, shifts to eerie unsettling bowing as characters descend into madness, and even drums on the side of his instrument with his fingers at one point to create a rainy soundscape. No theatrical artifice is hidden from the audience: the costume pieces sit in plain view, Piper sits with his cello in a pool of light to the side of the stage, yet this feels clean and transcendent nevertheless. Impressively, even the light board is operated by Yuhara herself, who starts and ends the show with a single strike. The piece was so transfixing, I didn’t even notice this until I watched her exit toward the board. (This is a testament to her performance and the effectiveness of her costume– her shifts from story to story were so clear that I mentally installed a lighting shift which never actually happened.)
While the piece is most certainly a beautiful work of art, it is also often darkly funny, and reminded me of the wry humor in Chicago’s show-stopping “Cell Block Tango.” Here, women from all walks of life have been wronged, and they’re taking matters back into their own hands. Is this right? Is this okay? The piece isn’t about moralizing, but rather about capturing the complexity behind what have too often been summarized in cliched terms. These are fully formed characters, not tropes, although they could very easily have been reduced to them: the beautiful, scorned older woman, the stand-by-your-man Southern wife-and-mother, the girl on the side, the fed-up housewife, the serial dater. Yuhara’s depiction of their narratives respects each character’s depth and originality, while allowing the audience to appreciate a few laughs in between. This show was an absolute pleasure to see, and is the kind of daring, creative, and beautifully performed work that should be celebrated.