As the name would suggest, Lady Fest theater festival in New York shines a light on womanhood in all its wondrous forms. In the supportive atmosphere of The Tank, female and female identifying artists are provided the opportunity to be heard by youthful spirits of all ages. Currently on stage in the smaller of the two houses is Tornkid, a multimedia fable for the times, presented in partnership with Baltimore Asian Pasifika Arts Collective (BAPAC). Written by Katelynn Kenney, the script vividly illustrates the emotions underlying the immigrant experience, using Southeast Asian and Pacific Indigenous creation stories as a springboard to explore the quest for belonging.
Struggling to fit in with both traditional Asian family life and the typical school experience of American children, Tornkid literally tears themselves in two. Sadly, their other half runs off with the voice, pointing out that Tornkid hasn’t really made use of it. Refusing to be doomed to a life of silence, Tornkid journeys through mystical lands, determined to be reunited with the parts of themselves that have been lost.
Use of the inclusive pronoun “they” to describe Tornkid is significant since exploring identity is essential to both the story and the storytelling technique. Tornkid is pulled apart by two distinct ways of being as well as an environment that constantly shifts between comforting and strange. The actors, too, morph identities as they move from role to role, often employing intriguing masks created by Tara Cariaso and Aaron Elson of Waxing Moon Masks.
The experience is similar to the ones frequently offered at The New Victory on a Saturday afternoon. Typical of myths, the story is very episodic, though the through-line is strong. A dragon-headed magical guide addresses the audience directly, explaining that we are the ancestors. She elicits our help at critical junctures, encouraging us to participate by adding claps, slaps and clicks and other sound effects. Metaphors are creatively made concrete by most of the characters. Each interaction makes Tornkid stronger and brings the goal into clearer focus.
Surasree Das lends tremendous warmth and stirs compassion as she pantomimes her way through Tornkid’s unusual journey. Her most powerful encounters are with a Tree Spirit and a Sea Warrior, two fantastic puppets created by Jess Rassp and given voice by Elizabeth Ung who also provides unique hand-decorated costumes. The narration supplied by the Magic Teller is sometimes stilted, but actress Kim Le sweetly and enthusiastically engages with the audience. Marela Kay Minosa and Mika Nakano round out the cast, playing a half dozen roles between them.
Co-directors Cara Hinh and Donna Ibale don’t yet have the knack for arranging movement appropriately in 3/4 round, staging too much of the action for the center section. But this is a minor distraction with so much creativity clearly in evidence. The puppet movements are nicely choreographed and literally extend the actors performances. There are also wonderful props by Pauline Lamb which draw on childlike images. Sounds not provided by the audience are designed by C. Swan-Streepy with the mystical atmosphere capped off by Miranda Poett’s lighting.
BAPAC’s inaugural production, this second iteration of Tornkid delivers an upbeat message in an inventive way. This worthy work is being hosted at The Tank (312 W 36th Street) a nonprofit that strives to remove economic barriers for emerging artists. Remaining performances of this workshop production are Saturday, August 10 at 3 PM and 7 PM and Sunday, August 11 at 3 PM. Lady Fest runs through Wednesday, August 28. Tickets range from $0 – $25. For a complete performance calendar and to purchase tickets in advance visit www.thetanknyc.org/ladyfest.