I’ll cut to the chase. I seldom mention the cost of tickets to a production although that information is always included with my review. But this time I shall call attention to it because I think it’s such a good deal. Admission to the one-woman show Big Giant Love at Madison Street Theatre is just $15.
This wonderful new work is written and performed by Maureen Muldoon, an actress who presents a very heartfelt, touching and often hilarious monologue that goes back and forth in time but is always fascinating and uplifting. Muldoon is strongly directed by Megan Wells, who helps this talented actress realize her authentic voice. The autobiographical show makes for a very delightful evening.
Wikipedia says Muldoon was born in 1966, which puts her at 52 years old. Yet in her jeans and pony tail she’s very credible playing her teenage self and even younger. Muldoon has an impressive range. She’s expressive, with a level of intimacy that makes you almost feel she’s talking directly to you.
Before the show begins, as the audience settles into their seats in the intimate Black Box space on the east side of Madison Street Theatre, a few pieces of furniture are visible, suggesting a Midwest suburban home. There is also a hand-made sign outside one of her children’s bedroom doors that announces a “Pansexual Transgender” individual resides there. This is what triggers the frank, seemingly effortless flow of dialogue that makes up this brave piece of dramatic work, which is an hour-long exploration of the outcomes when a child changes gender.
One-person shows are nothing new. Many have been quite successful over the years. Sometimes they bring to life well-known figures from literature or history, such as Emily Dickinson, Clarence Darrow or Mark Twain. Other solo performances present an individual’s personal story; the actor may be well-known or may not.
Madison Street Theatre is inaugurating a series of four solo performances titled, “Power of One,” created by Megan Wells and Scott Jones. The second show in the sequence, The Things They Carried, adapted from the acclaimed chronicle by Vietnam War veteran Tim O’Brien, performed by Jim Stovall, will be presented in October. Director Megan Wells says each of the four solo productions about courage are stimulating and rewarding.
Muldoon, an inspirational speaker, storyteller, and Hollywood actress for several decades, has no difficulty connecting with the audience in this intimate performance space. She’s quirky and amusing, often sharing difficult stories from her background.
“I’m sort of a baby,” she confides early on. She tells about how mean kids bullied and badgered her to jump off the high dive in their local swimming pool. She makes up songs when she is unsure of what to do or say. When she’s bombarded with distressing mental pictures, she simply shakes her head “like an Etch-A-Sketch” to make the image go away.
We don’t learn a lot of her family background except that it was a busy family and she had lots of siblings. Music is a theme and her Irish father would sing “Danny Boy” when he was drunk, while her mother often played old record albums of Broadway show tunes. Her brothers made up hilarious dirty lyrics. Muldoon says it was “like being raised in a dysfunctional musical.”
When she was a child, her mother often worried Maureen was “in her own little world.” In her elementary school years, the nuns told her to “button her lips” and not be so bold. Judgmental, nosey church ladies were critical of her as she was growing up. Her mother died when Maureen was a teen.
Big Giant Love, a dynamic solo performance by Maureen Muldoon, is strongly performed and directed. I was expecting this autobiographical work to be ponderous and sad but it’s not. It’s full of humor and warmth, while showing the resilience and strength of the human spirit.
See “Big Giant Love” at Madison Street Theatre, Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., and Sundays, 3 p.m., through Sept. 23. $15. Tickets: mstoakpark.com/productions.
1010 Madison St., Oak Park.