Two-Timer: Marian Oliker wrote and performs 'Mariama,' about two dancers who share a common dream.
Theater review: Mariama
Marian Oliker's one-woman show gets at the heart of the human experience.
By Denise Vivar
Marian takes a sideways glance, sizes herself up in the mirror and sighs, "I am too thin, I am too tall and too pale. I am all wrong." Mariama, likewise, observes her reflection and laments, "I am too round, my skin is the wrong color. I am all wrong." Each woman is in a dance studio in a different part of town, but it's the same butt we're looking at—the two characters are portrayed by one woman. Yet by the time they utter these words, we know each one well and can plainly see her body as well as feel her pain.Marian Oliker's solo performance Mariama: A Tale of Freedom and Grace is a story about finding and following one's passion. It follows the lives of two main characters, Mariama, a Senegalese girl, and Marian, a white American girl. Marian is a ballet, jazz and modern dancer who searches for the form that feeds her soul and finds West African dance. Mariama reluctantly leaves the comfort of her small village as a child and comes to New York City, where she falls in love with ballet. With a backdrop of the city skyline and the music of '60s and '70s jazz and Motown, classical and Hi-Life, Oliker weaves her narrative with a cast of one, taking us with her on a seamless journey through time and space.
The stage is bare but for two small boxes, yet when we meet Marian—all grins and bursting with exhilaration as she announces, "I am six and I am dressed and I am going OUT!"—we see and feel what the young girl experiences in a night out at the theater. And as Mariama sits by the river with her friend in Malaga, the luxurious heat and humidity wrap around the audience as we eavesdrop on their talk about boys from behind the moringa tree. We feel the rumble and lurch of the subway while Marian is alone in the world among the throngs of passengers. We see the dismissive looks from the other girls in class as a proud Mariama gracefully moves through her adagio. Oliker breathes life into each character, effortlessly gliding between Marian and Mariama as the girls grow into adulthood. She draws the audience in close, and we share in the heartache, loneliness, jubilance and grace as her characters embrace their hearts' desires.
Oliker's work as a dancer, social worker and playwright has moved her to explore the themes of Mariama: the commonality in living one's dreams, overcoming oppression, coping with body-image issues, healing resentments and ultimately undertaking the journey of the Self to become itself. Oliker's sole portrayal of the characters and their separate but common struggles and joys seems the perfect metaphor for the universality of the human experience.
MARIAMA: A TALE OF FREEDOM AND GRACE plays Friday-Sunday, Nov. 16-18, at 8pm at Actor's Theatre, 1001 Center St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15 and available at Logos Bookstore or at the door.
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