Messianic Moments and Cosmic Conversations is a faux documentary by award-winning documentarian Barbara Heller. In the piece, Heller plays eight characters, each representing an amalgam of strangers she has met on the streets. Using the prompt, "Have you ever made a deal with God?" Heller illuminates the ways humans are all fascinating and worthy of listening to.
Heller's eight fictional women are all very different from each other. She takes on a wide range of accents, physicalities and perspectives. Heller's portrayals are written and performed in a way that highlights the humanity of each person while not shying away from their flaws. These characters are portrayed with an over-the-top comedy that reads at times like a parody of different types of people and not a realistic portrayal of a person. However, the comedy inherent in the script and Heller's performance made for many clever laugh lines and big audience reactions. Not only is this show a fake doc but it is also a musical. Each character sings a short song which Heller performs passionately.
In between each character's entrance are short vlog-style videos of Heller discussing the themes and mission of the show. Before the characters speak, a slide appears with details such as the character's name, age, and religion. However, after these slides ended, the projector stayed on and showed the cue lab screen for the show. At times, I could even see the stage manager clicking on the next cue. These cue slides distracted from the performance Heller was giving in front of it. It also took away from the overall professionalism of the production and could easily have been fixed. The other technical elements, like the lighting and costume design, aided the storytelling. I wish more attention could have been put into this visual element.
Heller explains in the show how she promised God she would create something to spread a good message if she survived the pandemic. This solo show is the result of this promise. Heller uses the show to promote her movement "to start to look for and find Messianic Moments with a stranger each day by having Cosmic Conversations." She also toys within the piece with the concept of cancel culture and not allowing people space to speak their peace. I found the show's tone a little preachy at times and very direct with its intentions. She could have opted for a little more subtly in talking about the show's themes instead of self-referentially discussing the piece within the vlogs in the show. However, the audience left chatting with strangers and were clearly moved by the performance. In this, Heller has achieved her goals.
While the show lacks a bit of the polish and nuance that I have come to appreciate in solo theatre, the heart within Heller's script and characters is undeniable. Her passion for the show's content radiates through and touches the hearts of her audience.
"Messianic Moments and Cosmic Conversations"
Written and Performed by Barbara Heller
Directed by Eva Minemar
October 15 and October 18
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