A Father’s Reverence and Awe in “As Soon as You’re Born (They Make You Feel Small)"
Jeremy Rishe starts his evocative show “As Soon as You’re Born (They Make You Feel Small)” by mingling with the audience, as if he were just another audience member awaiting the spectacle. The choice speaks to Mr. Rishe’s demeanor throughout: he is one of us. This show is a beautifully written and acted account of one family’s wrenching experience of overcoming infertility only to lose their child 16 weeks into the pregnancy. Mr. Rishe mimes breaking through dust and plaster. We later learn the actual context of this opening scene, but the effect is powerful even without that knowledge: he is pushing beyond boundaries to discover and make a new life. From here, the show moves quickly into Mr. Rishe’s portrayal of the excruciating repetition of communicating with doctors, as he and his wife seek help for complications only four months into their pregnancy. The doctors don’t say much, and patient fatigue sets in. The couple must recite the same information, only to be given a similar response by a doctor, who passes them on to another doctor, only to repeat the same process over again. Mr. Rishe is careful to evoke this. He seeks not to save the audience from arduousness, but rather to immerse us in it, to depict how the medical establishment can increase the already considerable psychological burden of medical emergencies. It turns out that the baby’s amniotic sac lacks fluid, thereby impeding growth. Mr. Rishe employs an interesting flashback technique. Memories from the past inject themselves into the present, creating playful overlays of music, dialogue and actions that reflect back upon the current scene. Music connects the dips backward and forward in time. The present always seems imbued with decisions from the past two days, or twenty‑three years, before. Peripatetic as these shifting timelines may sound, Mr. Rishe does an excellent job narrating time shifts. Sometimes I wanted more insight into Mr. Rishe as a child. We understood that his relationship with his mother was important, but more direct context would help us better understand his formative childhood. Mr. Rishe’s extraordinary physicality captures nuances that mere words or expressions can’t. His characterizations of different people make the show pulse with life‑even during events that feel maddeningly upsetting to the point of numbness. Mr. Rishe has a penchant for humorous observations even in the midst of great feeling. Sometimes, such comments take the audience out of the feeling, the result being a bit jarring. On the other hand, such abstract observations speak to a quick wit and intelligence‑the ability to see irony and absurdity in the moment. Perhaps because of the broad range of events Mr. Rishe includes in his story, there are portions of the show that lose a sense of movement. Condensing superfluous details will help him maintain pacing, and advance the action onstage. I was completely pushed from my chair by the beauty of Mr. Rishe’s acting in the scene in which he meets his baby, whom he and his wife lose before she reaches full term. Mr. Rishe addresses the child with such loving reverence and awe, saying that he won’t know her in this lifetime. Mr. Rishe describes her, making us present in the room with him. I have seen few more powerful scenes. By the end of this show, Mr. Rishe’s eye toward the spiritual and supernatural has opened the audience to mystery. His heightened awareness of the magical propels the show. Its ending circles back to the opening scene, and made me feel included in Mr. Rishe’s newly heightened awareness of the metaphysical in a profoundly unexpected way.
“As Soon as You’re Born (They Make You Feel Small)” Written and Performed by Jeremy Rishe October 8 at 9 PM Photo: courtesy of the production 2019 United Solo Theatre Festival Theatre Row 410 West 42nd Street New York City
CYNTHIA DARLING is a writer and teacher living in Hell’s Kitchen. A writer for NAfME’s Teaching Music magazine for many years, she also wrote for New York Family magazine. She is currently working toward an MFA in Creative Writing with the Bluegrass Writers Studio. Her fiction and nonfiction appear in Louisiana Literature, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Wanderlust Journal.