Aerial-actor. Whether you be an actor or an aerialist, the masterful skill of combining these art forms is most likely beyond your reach. Were you to not have tried either, the ease with which Mara Neimanis executes the fusion, might easily deceive you into thinking this is cake. But I assure you, this is not cake. This is something astounding. This is a new brand of performance art; serving as vehicle for the deeply personal, highly relevant, and joyfully heart-opening story of Naomi's Flight.
It is with delicate precision and a deep-seated relationship between them, that Mara begins by placing the apparatuses in motion. Each one in its own time. As the light spins over the twirling metal, Mara's voice carries us away on a journey...the story of her mother's battle with diabetes and Alzheimer's. The story of her parents' love and devotion to one another, and of hers to them. I smile at the first appearance of Naomi, Mara's mother, and am grateful to know her, if only in this way.
Perched atop of invented apparatus, created by sculptor Tim Scofield, Mara puts on the mask of her mother and tells of how her parents fell in love. "A Russian Jew? Ooooo" Her father's Latvian parents did not approve, nor her mother's of him. And yet a young love blossomed between two souls in New York City, in the 50's. A world where her mother took acting classes with Lee Strasberg and met Marilyn Monroe. Where Naomi and George met at Sardis, "not the famous one where the celebrities went", for the best food in NYC. Mara weaves together reminiscent stories of yesterday with the sharp reality of Naomi's mental and physical decline and her ever-expanding need for care. Mara's training shines as she slips in and out of the three characters (mother, father, self) as easily as she slides in and out of difficult aerial maneuvers.
And while the aerial work is wonderfully impressive. It is much more than eye candy. It is in this world of inversion, a world of struggle and release, that the metaphor for mental illness is so beautifully illustrated. Mara has found a way to illuminate Naomi's state of mind, now so often turned upside-down. From moments of great exhaustion, body draped limply over metal bars, to explosive summersaults and holds filled with lift and lightness...we get to ride along as Naomi flies in and back out again. The contrast of her father's groundedness, always sitting calmly on the bottom rung of the gate, anchors this world of inversion; while Mara herself, moves around, over, and under...searching, searching, searching.
"Hello, Dr. Dark??" The sharp, rhythmic dream sequences shake us out of the lyrical world. Draped in a pool of light center stage, we see a highly animated mime, comically portraying the maddening task of communicating with her mother's doctor. "Yes, I'm tying you up again!" Mara plays both herself and the doctor simultaneously; up to her ears in prescriptions, insulin shots, and rope. Pouncing on him triumphantly, only to wake up again, Mara groans over another unsuccessful strangling the dreaded, Dr. Dark.
Upon this viewing of Naomi's Flight, my 3rd, I am moved by the generosity in Mara's performance. Some time has passed since she wrote the piece, and it seems that at this point in her personal journey, Mara is able give us this story quite gracefully and with peace in her heart. It is breathtaking to watch....
I find myself thinking of my great-grandmother, who after many years living alone with an in-home caregiver, died in a nursing home at the age of 101. At the age of 11, I didn't understand much of this, but I'll never forget the moments where her blue eyes would drift away, taking her somewhere far beyond the four walls of the room. Each time she came back to us was a gift. I think of my grandmother and my own mother, of what the years will bring and of the time we have today.
Mara is bravely sharing a deeply personal and poignant story, but in doing so is evoking conversation about families, caregivers, mental illness, healthcare systems, and all the space in between. She allows us to reflect on our own stories and to look lovingly at our own fragility with great honesty. And for those who have dealt with such personal hardships alone, and without support, this is quite a generous gift.
My favorite moment of the show comes during a trip to the mall with Naomi and Mara to buy a hat for George on their 54th wedding anniversary. An honest, simple story of mother and daughter. After a frustrating car ride and an intentionally bumpy wheelchair ride over the cracked sidewalk, the two women share a memory of their time together in Israel, while standing in the food court. We see, for a moment, Naomi fly in and grace us with contagious life and laughter. Only to fly out again...
It seems to me that life is full of these fleeting moments and we ought to cherish them when they appear. Mara's reflections on her mother who, she misses, "even though she is not gone," are beautifully layered and she shares that "as her mind retreats, her heart comes forward" .... something we all can do with a bit of.
As she leaves the stage, Mara again sets the apparatuses in motion, marveling at their strength and beauty, and their free-spirited movement. I sit with tears in my eyes and hope in my heart.
Story by: Kolleen Kintz Photos by: Bobby Kintz