Erin Leddy’s cleverly conceived, deeply felt, occasionally mystifying My Mind is Like an Open Meadow is a one-woman show starring two women.
In this compact one-hour show, running at 59E59 through Aug. 19, Leddy plays off the recorded voice of her grandmother, Sarah Braveman, an actress born in 1917 whom Leddy lived with in 2001 and interviewed extensively on tape. Recounting memories of a life onstage and off, the old woman’s voice projects from a spotlit boom box or from speakers all around us, sometimes relaxed, sometimes wry, sometimes excitable, sometimes frustrated with old-age memory lapses. Frequently it converses directly with Leddy’s live persona. The actress and creator also uses audio technology and music to transform or enhance it for atmospheric effect. (Jonathan Walters directed the innovative production, which premiered last year in Portland, OR.)
On stage with no other biologically living soul, Leddy uses her own sylphic presence; movement sequences that resemble what used to be called interpretive dance; a little-girl singing voice; and a variety of electronic samples, microphones, props, and costumes to variously converse with and embody her grandmother, persistently digging into her ancestor’s life until, in the climactic song, conjured-Sarah sings, through Leddy: “No more digging dear, I’m all dug up.”
What Leddy has “dug up” isn’t really a story. There’s no tale told, little narrative; the drama and tension arise entirely out of her manipulation and molding of the material: the tapes of her grandmother’s voice combined with her own engagement and reaction. With music contributed by Ash Black Bufflo, choreography by Jane Paik, graceful lighting and scenic design by Christopher Kuhl, and artful “sound design & imagineering” by Casi Pacilio, the show fuses the lives of the two women via a variety of means, from simple conversation to sonic overload.
Numerous moments resound from the grandmother’s life and the granddaughter’s engagement with it: trying to remember the names of long-gone cats; returning day after day to a coffee shop to stare at a waitress who resembles a dead friend; reciting Edna St. Vincent Millay’s great youthful poem “Renascence”; even remembering how panty hose work. There are also moments when we’re not entirely sure what we’re seeing, or how we’re supposed to interpret it, and a segment near the end during which the sound design comes close to drowning out Sarah’s voice as it makes what seem to be key statements.
Quibbles aside, this is a captivatingly creative show, truly something different.