Saturday, February 2, 2013
West Side Terri by Terri Mowrey, FronteraFest 2013
by Michael Meigs
We've all lost ourselves in cinema dreams. In her charming hour with us in West Side Terri, Terri Mowrey takes the audaciously simple concept of re-enacting for her audience the 1961 film of West Side Story.
The music, the quips and the scenes live in most of us. Robert Wise and choreographer Jerome Robbins took the musical by Leonard Bernstein and Steven Sondheim and converted it into memorable American folk myth, a Romeo and Juliet story with exciting cinematography, social consciousness, compassion, jazzy dance and a fine tearjerker of an ending. The moral was voiced by Doc, the aggrieved old pharmacist, after death and disaster intervened: "Why can't you kids just get along?"
Terri's fiction is that she's at home in her apartment with its proud Mexican-heritage decorations when that noisy neighbor upstairs starts playing loud music, yet again. She realizing that this time he's playing the whole soundtrack of West Side Story. Delighted, she goes off into her dream and takes us with us, retelling the film, singing along, scooping up props from around the living room and dancing with the abandon of an eight-year-old and the charisma of an adult.
We enjoy the music and recall the scenes. In the course of this hour-long frolic, we get tidbits about the movie -- for example, that dazzling aerial shot at the opening is swooping down toward desolate blocks that before too long would be converted to Lincoln Center; andJerome Robins was taken off the choreography because the film was running over budget). We also learn about Terri herself. She tells us of her terrible disappointment when in 1992 ("yes, I'm that old") she blew her audition for the character of sexpot Anita, perhaps because she wanted it so very much. She recalls an episode in elementary school when an awkward Hispanic boy was shunned because his parents sent him to school with a burrito for lunch, packed in a thermos.
Terrri loves the film but she's no purist; she's happy to knead the characters to suit her own fantasies. A mezzo, herself, she dismisses Maria, the lead played by Natalie Wood, referring to her as 'that soprano.' She undercuts the amiable but forgettable Tony portrayed by Richard Bemer by giving him dull-witted reactions and the voice of Keanu Reeves. She laughs a bit at the frills of the Puerto Rican characters and at the absurdity of finger-snapping, pirouettes and pliés. She's having fun. Her vivid and often surprising renderings of familiar scenes are a delight. Older and more experienced now, perhaps wiser, she's still enchanted by the sweep of tragic romance. Her enthusiasm is a reminder how much we're all shaped by the myths of our times, and how willingly we embrace them.
Jay Fraley, a talented actor and relatively recent transplant from southern California, brought Terri to Austin to do this piece, originally performed to acclaim with the Monkey Wrench Collective in Orange County. Thanks to him and to Terri for a happy time.
Click to view Terri Mowrey's program sheet for West Side Terri