Suzen Murakoshi‘s self-authored, one-woman performance, Breathe, Love, Repeat, presently playing at Under St. Marks as part of this year’s Frigid New York Festival, is an autobiographical recounting of her last days with her mother. For anybody this might represent a daunting theme, vast, self-examining, possibly too much. But Murakoshi has an imaginary alter ego to call upon in the face of such a challenge – a samurai super daughter – and unhesitatingly she jumps in and grabs the bull by the horns. Why or whence came this super daughter is never made clear, she just magically appears in the form of Murakoshi heroically brandishing an invisible sword above her head in full spotlight. She is the pluck, the resistance, and later the resilience that help carry the author through the ordeal of watching her mother gradually sicken and decline. She is some sort of Asian folkloric warrior princess, alive to the existence of a spirit realm, knowledgeable of the proper respects and tributes owed the demons that haunt us.
Perhaps she springs from her mother’s early Buddhist-inspired tales of the kami spirits of the woods and the proper forms of address and appeasement. Perhaps she’s just an aspect of Suzen the snowboarding fanatic, addicted to the adrenaline rush of speed and movement , the one who seems merely distracted and impatient with her mother’s telephone revelation that she has been diagnosed with cancer. Whoever she is she doesn’t say very much or get into it, just poses heroically in the spotlight with her signatory sword salute after the manner of a manga champion, as undeniable and inscrutable as She-Ra. Correspondingly mother is appraised as Queen Supreme Buddha, a repository of old world wisdom, craft, forbearance and tolerance. We’re in a fantasy realm, whimsically pirouetting atop the darker, sadder world of human suffering and mortality. This is an elegant and fresh strategy for addressing themes of loss and dying.
In several compelling instances Murakoshi elects to turn her back upon the audience, drops into a slouch, and growls out some lines by Dylan Thomas or Shakespeare. Who this stage interloper might be is never addressed, but as a theatrical device it proves quite effective. She certainly can move about the stage in graceful or comedic manner – at one point effortlessly falling into a cartwheel – but when this theatrical persona is dropped, so that we can hear the author speaking in her own voice, there is a dramatic shift to, well, neutral. One just wishes that Murakoshi playing Murakoshi were in some form more actually present upon the stage. The voice is problematic – vocal modulation is narrow and inexpressive, as if she were reading off a list of shopping groceries. There’s a rattling impersonal character in the way she imparts her unfolding story, almost as if she wants the whole thing to be over as soon as possible. The performance lasted just under 45 minutes. It isn’t helpful that Murakoshi seems very comfortable with linguistic and familial cliches such as – “more guilt Mom, pile it on”, and “You were the best Mom in the world.”
In the late stages of her mother’s illness the nurse at the hospice opines that they should administer a shot of morphine to alleviate pain. Mother has expressed the desire to live consciously to the end in the Buddhist tradition, not succumbing to the use of sensory- or pain-killing medications. Murakoshi and samurai super daughter wish to honor this request, and in order to convince the nurse there is no essential need, the author asks her plainly suffering mother to smile and not frown. Which she does. It is a chilling moment and one that touches on the greater theme of: Which reality are you living? Murakoshi appears fully given over to her imaginary universe, almost desperately so, which might rankle with some when the stakes are so critically high. Such audience members might even observe that she can’t fundamentally deal with “reality” and this performance is her apology for the fact. One is left with the sense that at no point has the author gotten out of her own way long enough to approach objectively her mother or, indeed, herself. The concluding mantra, offered as a gem of hard won understanding – Breathe, Love, Repeat – feels cosmetic, unearned, pat, and frankly senseless. A tingling note of emotional exhibitionism prevails which, alas, is the rout of any attempt at sincere understanding or illumination, theatrical or otherwise.
Directed with a light hand by Ching Valdes-Aran, the presentation makes effective use of some simple photographic back shot projections. The silent photo album slide show reserved for the ending is, however, a theatrical misstep, awkwardly lacing the harder stuff with a sentimental syrup at odds with the preceding, and betraying a greater need at work here: the formulation of a hagiographic postcard to the author’s much-loved, late mother. Plainly and simply, after all, samurai super daughter just doesn’t do grief.
~~~Breathe, Love, Repeat: A near-life experience Company: Mustique Projects Directed by: Ching Valdes Valdes Feb 27, 7:30PM Mar 02, 10:30PM Mar 04, 7:00PM $15.00 UNDER St. Marks