Miss Miss is a little . . . off. She brings the idea of pickling to new heights. To preserve that old icebox of days gone by? Take a few nuts and bolts, store in a jar, and shake well. The result? A jolt of memory, a sigh, a smile. Welcome to the loopy, off-kilter world of Suzan-Lori Parks.
Performed eloquently by Jaye Austin-Williams, the one-character, one-act play Pickling resonates with loss, longing, and oddball humor. Miss Miss, a middle-aged black woman, stands behind a towering pyramid of glass jars that barricades her against the world. As she opens them one by one to display her treasures, she explains their history, burbling, singing, shedding a tear. As she embroiders the tales, she reprimands herself to tell the truth. But oh, she relishes the mementos of her onetime lover—the sand he trod, the condom he wore, his breath (“Gas,” she confides to us with a giggle). A photo of her mother evokes jokey asides followed by a searing recollection of the old woman’s death.
As the pyramid grows smaller with each item shown and removed, Miss Miss wrenches herself away from them and toward the world outside her apartment. Her flights of free association are rich and evocative. Pulled between the poles of delusion and sanity, she’s a touching figure.
Directed by Allison Eve Zell with clarity and economy, Pickling is the more successful of the two linked-theme pieces that make up “She Keeps Time.” Both show women who retreat from the world as a response to loss. Both are spare and symbolic, but Zell’s own play, Come to Leave, is more self-consciously Beckettian and contrived.
The young woman in Come to Leave—she calls herself Bo Peep, her father’s pet name for her—emerges from a trunk dressed in a college graduation gown. She has not spoken in years, she tells us in frantic, jerky whispers, not since her father’s sudden death. Swooping out of the trunk with suspicious tremors, she passes from stuttering to wild-eyed panic to jivey dancing as she recounts the big love affair in “my freshly fatherless year” and life with her mother in an “empty full-of-ghosts house.”
Lethia Nall plays the young woman with winsome appeal, Zell choreographs her movement arrestingly, and the language is prettily poetic. But the character feels almost generic—like any young adult first experiencing death. Bo Peep lacks the ballast of Parks’s protagonist. Miss Miss is the genuine human article, pockmarked by a life’s sad and funny indignities—her feet are on the ground even while she’s floating off it.