Last week, New Paltz’s Denizen Theatre opened its doors to the public as it showcased the play “Bo-Nita” by Elizabeth Heffron, a one-woman show starring Terri Weagant as 13-year-old Bo-Nita, a spunky Missouri girl with a wild imagination and a troubled family life. The Denizen is an intimate black box theatre, and when sitting in the first row, audience members dangle their legs towards the staging area, as much a part of the show as the cast.
“The most precious thing we have in our life is time,” said Denizen founder Harry Lipstein as he welcomed the audience. “And everyone here is giving energy and time to this moment.”
Bo-Nita’s 90-minute runtime sped by as Weagant (an adult woman) fully channeled the spirit of a 13-year-old down on her luck. Her movements were mesmerizing, her dialogue well-paced, emotional and non-stop. She successfully portrayed at least five characters with distinct dialects, ticks and body language. While the performance was occuring on-stage, an audience member could not only appreciate what was there, but what was not. The script and Weagant’s delivery allowed for a sort of hallucinatory effect over the viewers, who could perfectly imagine each character, and their scenes playing out in front of them.
Throughout the play, Weagant bounced off the audience, as if we were characters in the play. As she told us the story of Bo-Nita, she adjusted her comedic timing, her glances and her delivery to fit the mood in the room. Aside from the script, she didn’t have much to work with; it was just her up on stage trusting the crowd, especially in moments of silence, to trust her and her storytelling.
Since there was little to look at in terms of set, the use of lighting and one central prop – a backpack – was used in a genius manner, under the guidance of Director Summer Wallace. The movement and color of the lights were used to set a tone or change the atmosphere of a scene. Additionally, raw, convincing acting and the intimacy of the space helped the absurd story of Missouri belly dancers, onion milk, a one-eighth Cajun man, a waitressing mother with a string of lovers and a scheme involving a South American giraffe come to life.
Underneath all of its humor, Bo-Nita is not a comedy. It is a tale of sadness, money troubles and abuse of power told by a little girl in a Lilo and Stitch shirt. She has the wisdom of someone much older than herself, but she has witnessed things that no 13-year-old should be able to fully process. Though she has dealt with too much for a girl of her age, she is brave, and her insights about the world are succinct and funny. At one point, she compares men to “uncooked dinner rolls:” “However their mamas plopped ‘em out, that’s how it’s gonna stay.”
This sort of funny and descriptive imagery was necessary to the play, as it painted a picture that miming and dialect could not.
Bo-Nita made the small space of the Denizen Theatre seem larger. Through Heffron’s storytelling and Weagant’s acting, we were brought to a different world — one that many of us Northerners might not understand — and shown truths about the world through the eyes of a child who is still getting her footing. Despite the constant instability in Bo-Nita’s life, she is fully cognizant in the stories she tells and the challenges she faces. She tells the truth in a way that only a child can, and feels things in that big way one does when they are only 13. Though she has little control in her life, Bo-Nita controls the way she tells her story. With Terri Weagant as the star, Bo-Nita was compelling, rhythmic, emotional and a bit jarring in the way that only live theatre can be.
If you want to see Bo-Nita, it is open at the Denizen until March 1. Tickets can be purchased at denizentheatre.com/bo-nita.