The program insert for Hold Still says that the characters who will appear are a grandmother, mother, and daughter. A black and white family photo projected at stage right shows the three women with the grandfather. As Susan Kuralt takes the stage as each character, the picture zooms in on her and gives her name. We begin with grandma Betty. Her body language, voice and manner are reserved and almost cold. She describes the curtain of lavender flowers that border the haven of her backyard where the family was "sheltered and at peace." Betty states these things as fact, with little emotion. You get the sense she is used to being in charge and having people accept her at her word. You find out that Betty is speaking from beyond the grave about something that happened in her family and that she spent the latter part of her life trying to "restore harmony."
Next, we meet Judith, the mother, who reveals the family secret that her father abused her daughter. Judith is also physically reserved but prone to emotional outbursts, especially when she feels sorry for herself or questions how her daughter could have put her through what she did. Judith echoes Betty's opinion that women and girls should accept the terrible things that happen to them and not make a fuss in the family. She makes quite a fuss herself, though, over losing her children after her divorce when they went to live with their father and again when Susan confronted the family about the abuse. Judith grows smaller and more still as she speaks, finally addressing Susan, asking where she has gone.
When Susan takes the stage in the same white nightgown and elaborately pinned hair that the mother and grandmother wore, she moves so differently that the gown and hair seem, for the first time, ethereal rather than restrictive as they did with the first two characters. Susan's voice has more life and is more present behind her eyes. In contrast to Betty, who paced a tight circle, and Judith, who mainly sat still while bemoaning her rotten luck, Susan physically fills the space. Susan lets out a scream that shatters the false calm Betty tried to project and feels like the first real thing that has happened in this play.
Susan shares details about her childhood abuse that are difficult to hear, but she speaks of it plainly and bravely. The audience's discomfort is supplanted by empathy for the person standing before them. Susan is fully realized as a character. Her pain at her grandfather's abuse and her mother and grandmother's betrayal in not protecting her is visceral without being sensational. Her decision to cut contact with her family and move on makes perfect sense. Where Betty and Judith suffocated the audience, Susan's refusal to remain bound by their guilt and shame is palpable in the theater. Her final song echoes the nursery rhymes that her mother and grandmother sang before she breathes air back into the room. Without downplaying the horror of her experiences, Susan finds a way to carry on with the support of her father and her refusal to let shame imprison her. That one actor could embody all three of these women, and to move the story of shame into the light with just her voice and body is quite an accomplishment.
Written and performed by Susan Kuralt
Directed by Kim Chinh
March 18, 2023
The Spring 2023 United Solo Festival
March 7th - March 26th, 2023
410 West 42nd (btw 9th and 10th Avenue)
STEPHANIE EAGAN is a professional writer based in NJ. A fan of every type of live performance imaginable, from taiko drumming to political performance art, she travels the tri-state area and beyond in search of music, art, theater, and excellent coffee.