Family Album | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Family Album, Porchlight Theatre Ensemble, at Stage Left Theatre. Printmaker Florence Noa, as revealed in her daughter Jenny Noa's show, used her art to come to terms with her life as the eldest daughter in a rigid, sometimes abusive Russian-immigrant Jewish family. Similarly, actress-writer Jenny Noa's Family Album not only pays tribute to her mother but also explores her own perceptions of a complicated family history. An engaging piece of untraditional theater, this fairly minimalist one-woman piece, directed by Christopher Gurr, relies on a visual backdrop of Florence Noa's prints and family slides and Jenny Noa's storytelling ability.

Noa's casual approach--simply talking to the audience--works in the intimate black box of Stage Left Theatre; she seems consistently comfortable talking to us at close range, and though she's definitely connected to the material, she's developed enough distance to transform the stuff of her life into art. When she acts out characters from her mother's life, however, Florence's parents and her aunts and uncles all sound alike. If each person had been more specific and detailed, perhaps glimpses of their humanity would have come through. Instead of trying to understand the story from their point of view, Noa re-creates them through her own memories alone.

Aside from this problem, Noa's performance is provocative, mature, even humorous. Deeply personal, her show captures what it means to contend with a family history. We can accept and carry on our heritage, deny it, or retain only what seems valuable. By trying to come to terms with the demons and angels of her family through art, Jenny Noa is certainly her mother's daughter.

--Gabrielle S. Kaplan

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