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Danielle Pinnock embodies a range of characters, including herself, in this engrossing, interview-based solo performance.
This new solo piece began life five years ago as Danielle Pinnock's graduate thesis, drawn from interviews with five subjects about body image. In the intervening years, the base material has grown to include more than 300 interviews; moreover, Pinnock has made her own story the central narrative. In between impressive transformations into characters based on her interviewees, she describes her childhood in New Jersey, sharing a house with her Jamaican mother and grandmother and struggling to accept what she saw in the mirror. Drafted as a teenager into participating in her mom's neverending string of yo-yo fad diets, she understandably developed a complicated relationship with her body. Friends and family who made comments like "look what was hiding under there!" when she lost 60 pounds for her Sweet 16 party didn't help.
The characters she embodies in the scenes that alternate with her story represent a wide array of self-image issues. Among their number are an Indian man obsessed with becoming a champion athlete, a single mother who went into the escort business in her 40s, a young British man with Parkinson's disease, and an actress railing against industry types who can't see casting her in certain roles because of her size. (The latter's rant about the dearth of plus-size Juliets is particularly satisfying.)
If anything, Pinnock has perhaps cast her net too wide. While each character's story is engrossing in itself, the whole might feel more cohesive with a narrower focus. But that quibble's overridden by Pinnock's astonishing performance. Instantly warm and relatable as herself and with the ability to wholly transform her physicality and voice as she inhabits a dozen or so distinct characters, Pinnock's stage presence is transfixing. One imagines she's just at the beginning of what will be an impressive body of work.
Rivendell Theatre Ensemble and Waltzing Mechanics. Written and performed by Danielle Pinnock. Directed by Megan Carney. Running time: 1hr 25mins; no intermission.