Pulling It All Into the Current, written and performed by Letta Neely, features a mosaic of monologues from a wide array of characters, making up a community and a life. Pulling It All Into the Current delivers an impactful lesson in empathy and perspective.
The script, written by Letta Neely, evokes slam poetry through powerful emotion and rhythmic truth-telling. Over the course of the performance, Neely takes on ten characters, each unique in their speech, mannerisms and points of view. From a veteran to a teenage mother to a preacher, Neely embodies these characters in their fullness and singularity. Her metamorphic performance of these different characters throughout the play reveals itself to create commonality in the story. The pieces of this story begin to fall together as each character reveals what makes them tick. In connecting all these disparate perspectives, Neely demonstrates how connected people are and the common threads through different experiences. The script covers difficult yet important themes like addiction, sexual abuse, familial trauma, race in America and hope. By allowing the audience a peak into the inner lives of each character, Neely lends empathy to even the most difficult people in the story who bring abuse and pain to others. The script and performance come neck and neck for the show's best aspect, each informing the other. My only critique of the script is that while some characters possess a clear outside person- they address their monologue to, others speak to a seemingly unspecified fourth wall. The stronger choice is to have every character address their speech to a different person or persons in their life.
Neely's transformations into each character are aided by props, costumes and lighting. The props and costumes helped sell the complete picture of the person and anchor Neely in their characterization. However, I found the lighting shifts unnecessary and distracting. By shifting the lighting to a blue wash in the transitory moments of the show, the audience was taken out of the performance. This resulted in a more disjointed presentation of monologues rather than a weaving of stories, which I believe was the script's goal. In addition, I find the getting in and out of character fascinating to watch and would have preferred to observe Neely's physical shifts in full view and light. Another directing decision I disagree with is the use of music. At some of the most emotionally intimate moments of the show, the speeches were underscored by a piano track. This track distracted me from the powerful performance of the actor and the truth of the words. Greater attention could have been given to the selection, finding music more uniquely suited to the text so it fits seamlessly. Alternatively, the music could be taken out altogether, and the performances could stand alone in their power.
"Pulling It All Into The Current" ended with two standing ovations for Neely. Throughout the performance as well, audience members audibly reacted to the material and very clearly connected with the stories. This play offered important insights into underrepresented communities and the audience readily consumed Neely's new narratives. Powerful, compelling and unique, Pulling It All Into The Current impacts all lucky enough to experience it.
"Pulling It All Into The Current"
Written and Performed by Letta Neely
Directed by Greg Allen
September 26, 2023
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