A one woman show can be a very tough thing to pull off, but not if it’s done well. This is the case in Anita Woodley (‘rie Shontel’s) presentation of Mama Juggs: Three Generations Healing Negative Body Images. This show has Shontel portraying three very different women – feisty seventeen year old Anita, a maternal (but still spirited) 27 year old Anita, her 100 year old great-grandma Suga Babe, and Mama Mable-Ree who is struggling with the trials of breast cancer and her ensuing death.
While it may seem difficult to envision one young woman portraying three women in various stages of life without a single costume change, Shontel manages to do so in a way that is almost magical. One could hear a hush of utter amazement fall over the audience the first time Shontel morphed from the lovable, outspoken Suga Babe to the equally outspoken Anita. Her voice and demeanor changed enough from character to character that the audience did not have time to grow bored or to get confused about which character she was supposed to be.
The show’s simple lighting was also quite impressive. The entire story is set in an Oakland, California housing project living room, and there are no set changes – only soft changes in lighting to signify scene breaks. While these are small and unobtrusive, they are exactly what the show needs to signify changes in mood or to highlight important moments without being too dramatic.
In fact, Mama Juggs actually comes off as quite light for a show that deals with breast cancer, late puberty, old age, and the trials and joys of breast feeding. While Shontel easily could have made this into a preachy show about feminism, she chooses to surprise the audience by making this show more about life and all its wonderful and difficult moments, making this a story that will appeal to just about anyone.
Not only did Shontel make sure that the story had something for everyone, she included just about everyone in the show – literally. She brought several audience members up onstage to interact with the characters. At one moment, Mama Mable Ree asks an onstage audience member if her character “deserves to die.” This is a pretty gutsy move on Shontel’s part, given that the audience member could say just about anything, but one expects Shontel could hold her own no matter what might have been said, especially if she learned from a woman like Suga Babe.
The show debuted at the lovely and rustic Common Ground Theatre in Durham, NC on Friday, February 5 with encore performances on Friday, March 19 and Saturday, March 29. The proceeds from it went to support Hope International for Tikar People (http://www.hitip.org) , and to help Shontel perform her show among the members of her ancestral tribe in Cameroon, Africa. She also has plans to perform in Los Angeles, California, so one can be sure this is not the last that will be heard of Mama Juggs.