The opening scene of Penny Pollak’s No Traveler (directed and co-created by Samantha Jones) immediately reminded me of The Triplets of Belleville (not the movie, but the weirdly enjoyable music video by M). Ms. Pollak, or rather her character Abigail, is having a great time dancing around her room to an equally bouncy French tune; she spends much of the song drinking wine, primping, getting frisky with a door, and setting the stage for some grand finale. Of course, when she pulls out the straight edged razor and steps into the bucket it becomes obvious that this was all nothing but a frivolous preamble to the real task at hand … ending her life.
Once the deed is done a series of bizarre events follow, beginning with the fact that she’s wound up in some strange purgatory and can only get out if she can save enough souls who are pretty much facing the same decision she just faced. This leads Abigail through a maze of other people’s tragic last moments and she’s expected to stop them right before they go splat or squish or doink or whatever their chosen method of suicide sounds like. Saving them will save her, and get her out of her crazy little room of purgatory.
Much like Clarence trying to get his wings, she must show each of these people why their lives are worth living. But unlike Clarence who got a whole movie to escort Jimmy Stewart around, Abigail just gets a few last minute interactions to sum up her charge and gather enough evidence to convince them to choose life instead of ending it all. And frankly, sometimes the things she bears witness to just makes it even easier for her to cast her vote along with Ms.-Pill-Taker-Behind-Door-A … sometimes she just can’t help from blathering out the truth which is … heck, if my life was as bad as all that, I’d be offing myself too. I mean, look … I DID!
I won’t spoil the ending here except to say that it is far more satisfying than It’s A Wonderful Life, in part becuase Penny Pollak is more entertaining to watch than Jimmy Stewart (there! I said it!), but also in part due to the fact that she doesn’t find Zuzu’s petals in her pocket in the last scene which I always found to be a bit of a cheat.
No Traveler is probably one of the best produced one-woman-shows I have ever seen; the music by Mike Milazzo (yes, the very same Mike Milazzo I’d seen perform in Kill The Band one night earlier) wove its way throughout this piece and created almost another character which Ms. Pollak could interact with and lean against.
Ms. Pollak brings a physicality to her roles that make her captivating to watch; she has amazing energy and vulnerability at the same time which coats each one of her characters with a layer of authenticity that reverberated throughout her performance. While every now and then one of her accents waivered a bit I was so drawn in by her body language and her movement that I could forgive a few questionable choices. Ms. Pollak is an actress who can flip from funny to tragic in one scene, often in one line, and dexterity like that makes for a show that is facinating to watch. Couple that with the fact that there are some really thoughtful themes packed into this one hour show, and you’re left with a play that will be with you for a while.
~~~No Traveler Written and Performed by Penny Pollak Directed and co-created by Samantha Jones Wednesday, February 24, 2010 through Sunday, March 07, 2010 Under St. Marks 94 St. Marks Place New York, NY 10003 Click here for tickets.