When I first stepped into the studio of the 418 Project to preview “The Imagine-a-nation of Lalachild,” the first play of the trilogy of The Rising Sun Dance Theater’s “A Star Called Love; the Freedom Stories of Lala,” and looked to the stage to find nothing but two prop blocks and a sparkle-eyed, red-headed actress, I was a bit taken aback.
Throughout the entire performance, the stage remained startlingly simple: no other actors and no new props. However, I was not prepared for what those two blocks and that spirited redhead had in store for me. At precisely 7 p.m. that Sunday I sat down in the 418 Project studio, and by 7:15 p.m. I was in another world: a world of rain, dust, laughter and tears.
Told from the perspective of Lala, an incredibly imaginative and spirited African-American girl in the all-black town of Lovely, Kan. in the 1890s, the play captures the innocence and rapture of childhood while also centering on topics of race, gender and love. The story follows Lala’s experience when a mysterious Chinese man named Longshoe rides into town on a dust storm, bringing new perspective and change to a dull town. The wise teachings of Longshoe and the town’s reaction to the change that Longshoe brings sparks questions of race, religion and the beauty of life.
Directed by Robin Aronson and written and performed by Rivera Sun Cook, “The Imagine-a-nation of Lalachild” is a wondrous, inspiring one-woman show. Though there was only one woman present on stage, Cook portrayed not just one, but many other characters. Three plays, 30 characters, one actress. There were no costume changes, no props and certainly no jubilant orchestra. For a split second, I had even half-expected Cook to crack a joke about a priest and a rabbi, as the set-up of the play reminded me so much of a stand-up comedy performance. However, Cook was gone the minute the lights dimmed, as she transformed into Lala, Mama Lu, Longshoe, the preacher and the rest of the town of Lovely.
This play was beyond the average imaginative caliber of a performance and chased away any trace of reality. Through large amounts of research on heavy accents and movement, Cook transported the audience to the dry, dusty, enchanting world of Lovely, Kan. She perfected southern accents ranging from the young to the old, which were enhanced by original and traditional music. Evident in the title, the play has a mystical, marvelous, imaginative appeal to it — the childlike enthusiasm and sheer appetite for life that Lala displayed had transported me to my own childhood, anxious for what the world might bring. Full of giggles and wide-eyed wonders, Lala made me leave the studio that night seeing the world as the giant playground that I once viewed it as. While I am surely not in Kansas anymore, after seeing the imagination and beautiful hopes that Lala had for her world, I looked around the world that I live in and saw it slightly prettier than remembered.