Review: Mad & A Goat by Diana Lynn Small, FronteraFest 2014
by Michael Meigs
Two women appear, standing side by side, each dressed in a frumpy oversized T-shirt and holding a portable tape recorder.
Expressionless -- or is that ironic? -- they take turns jabbing buttons so that the machines blurt forth, a phrase at a time, the intro.
(Oh, gosh, is this going to be an endless evening of pseudosmart absurdity?)
(The answer is triumphantly 'no.')
One of those women is Diana Small, the author, but which? Is she the small one or the tall one? Could Ms. Small be tall and dismissive or might she be a short person with an attitude?
We never find out, because once they begin to speak and move, mirroring one another, complementing one another, delivering the lengthy shaggy goat story written by Small (whichever one she is), it doesn't matter. They are the same woman. Oh, yes, one or the other may do a quick shift, just long enough to incarnate another character -- the bored, offensive nurse at the clinic; Mom, retired in Palm Springs, on the other end of the telephone and delivering some bad news and some good news; an elderly cult member on a goat farm in Wyoming; Dominic the arrogant young farmer with chapped hands and steaming sex appeal -- but Diana Small and Heather Johnson are precisely the same person.
And I do mean precise: at every split second in this hour-long yarn they are coordinated, calibrated, meticulous and entirely in sync. The trick with the tape recorders was nothing; these women are reading one another's minds, finishing sentences and thoughts, moving in a tandem far closer than identical twins. Theirs is a delicious bravado performance.
They relate and act out a droll, angry and wildly improbable story. The Woman (both actors are credited as 'The Woman') succeeds in earning her college degree, despite her parents' refusal to contribute. Haunted by the spectre of her $100,000 in student loans and dogged by collection notices, she schemes ways to put her hands on some cash. How about selling her eggs to a fertility clinic? (A detailed account follows, and it would be comic if it wasn't so absurdly convincing.) The resulting chain of improbable events puts the Woman, an adamant lifelong vegetarian, onto that isolated goat farm where by the terms of a weird contract, if she resides in the commune for a year (not a real year, an academic year of 279 days), she will inherit property worth a cool million dollars.
So what could go wrong?
Well . . . a lot!
And they tell it all in the first person with Diana Small's witheringly ironic humor and bizarre accumulation of incident. This piece is a treat, both for the highly accomplished staging and for the story, one that demonstrates with only moderate snark that the Michener Center for writers managed to snare a wild talent when they admitted Small -- whichever one she might be -- to their program.
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