Baggage weaves together slam poetry and memoir to create a solo show about running from the past and the allure of escape.
The show is written and performed by international spoken word poet Melissa Rose. Her poetic voice certainly informs the script. Rose speaks to a stranger turned confidante in an airport at 3 a.m. while waiting for a connecting flight. She divulges her past experiences with abuse and sexual assault and how they inform how she experiences life. Rose walks us through her life as a touring spoken word poet and her romantic involvements along her travels. As she shares secret after secret, it becomes clear she is always on the move in an effort to escape her past.
Many moments of the play featured beautiful, creative and visceral descriptions. The narrative tone was solid; however, I wished Rose leaned into a solo show's theatrical nature at times. I longed for moments of more stillness and living in the reality of the behavior that arises from such total vulnerability. In general, more variance would help highlight the piece's strengths: embracing and living in the moments of comedy and authentic connection. This way, the poetic verse of the text can really sing when it's time comes.
The material in the show is not easy for a performer. I commend Rose for her bravery in sharing her personal experiences with trauma and mental illness. Hearing real stories of how these incidents shape the human psyche is powerful. This being said some of the show's more emotional moments felt forced and dramatic for the sake of the narrative, not the performance's sake. I understand the impulse to lean into the emotions; however, I would rather see a more subtle, understated, but genuine performance. Rose could let her evocative words speak for themselves at many points in the story instead of adding more performativity to indicate the text's intentions.
This piece contains music by the musical director, Cullen Vance. The underscoring serves the piece by informing the tone and creating a narrative ambiance. Rose's lyrical poetry seamlessly fits with the music and creates a powerful collaboration. The soundtrack furthers the show's tone and adds an interesting layer to the theatrical experience.
The show feels like a long slam poem. A story of the life of a spoken word poet told in the style of spoken word. Fans of theatre performance may find the show could benefit from more attention to form and style. For fans of the genre, however, this show is an excellent extension of the short-form content it is known for.
Written and Performed by
Directed by Mia Vance
Musical Director: Cullen Vance
The 15th United Solo Festival
September 25- November 19, 2023
410 West 42nd (btw 9th and 10th Avenue)
Carmen! is a trans-multimedia artist specializing in playwriting, acting and crochet. Originally from Jacksonville Beach, Florida, they are currently based in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, returning to their Atlantic Oceanic roots. Their play Taking the Plunge has been performed at the Tank and the Chain off-Broadway and in the 2023 Fresh Fruit Festival slated this June. Carmen has also worked in front-of-house and technical positions for prominent theater organizations including New Dramatists, Portland Playhouse, Emursive and Future Proof. Carmen’s mission is to use play to create meaningful representation by and for underrepresented communities. For more information on Carmen! Follow them on socials @carmenacetosociety or check out www.carmenburbridge.info