One-woman show addresses issues of identity, diversity

by Divya Gunasekaran | 4/23/09 12:19am

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Janis Astor del Valle performed her one-woman show
by Courtesy of Wesleyan.edu / The Dartmouth
Correction appended

During a performance of her self-written work "Trans Plantations" in the Bentley Theater at the Hopkins Center last Thursday, writer, performer and filmmaker Janis Astor del Valle invoked the age-old adage "the show must go on," even though it meant being stuck in a straitjacket for an hour -- a straitjacket that she started out the show wearing, but was supposed to remove four pages into the piece's script.

The autobiographical one-woman show chronicles del Valle's difficulty in dealing with her family's move from the Bronx to rural Connecticut during her childhood and in establishing her identity as a Puerto Rican lesbian. The straitjacket served as a constant reminder of the strain of her lifelong struggle of identity.

"It lends a whole new dimension to my performance and character," del Valle said during the post-performance discussion.

Del Valle was unable to remove the straitjacket as planned because she could not undue the knot tied by a the Bentley Theater stage manager.

Del Valle's genuine presentation of the play's emotional content allowed the audience to empathize with her.

"I think the theme of identity is universal, and one doesn't have to be a Puerto Rican lesbian to enjoy my play or any of my plays," del Valle said in an interview with The Dartmouth. "We all struggle with identity at one point or another."

The label "one-woman show" seems almost misleading for this play. It is true that del Valle was the only performer to grace the stage, but her skilled, dynamic story-telling exposed the audience to numerous other characters in her life, the most prominent of which is her mother. Del Valle's use of different voices, body language and a mix of Spanish and English brought several characters to life on the stage, often producing a comedic effect.

"Trans Plantations" proved to be an honest, personal look at a woman's struggle to free herself from the labels and expectations of others, and to determine her own identity. Del Valle gave her audience an opportunity to witness her evolution and eventual triumph over her traumatic past and then asks us to reflect on their own lives.

Del Valle came to Dartmouth for a short residency dedicated to increasing dialogue about diversity on campus, and co-sponsored by several campus organizations including the Office of Pluralism and Leadership and the Dickey Center for International Understanding.

"My goal really is to help promote understanding of diversity and spark meaningful discourse on identity," del Valle said.

The original version of this article incorrectly stated that del Valle was unable to remove a straitjacket she donned for the performance because she could not undo the know tied by a member of the audience. In fact, the jacket was tied by the Bentley Theater stage manager.