Flowers, candles, and a cross adorn the stage, surrounded by an audience full of mourning women. The lights go up and the drum gives a resounding trill. The backstage door opens, and out walks the Female Cuban-American Family Member: a general and all-encompassing character, yet so specific with her piercing eyes and pointedly downward-turned mouth. This woman struts onto the stage, confidently stating herself as… Patricia Lopez? Mariela? Juana? Or simply, Lori Barkin ’12.
Barkin has risen to new heights in the mounting of “The Funeral of Enerio López” in the Philly Fringe Festival this weekend. It is impossible to quantify the amount of work that Barkin has put in to producing the show. She wrote, directed, acted in, and staffed her own crew for this solo performance piece. When I interviewed her stage manager Patrick Ross ’15, he said that before the technical run-through the next night, Barkin was in the theater hanging and focusing her lights. Yet, Barkin was entirely modest about it: “It not really harder [to put it in the Fringe], because the show is done.”
Barkin worked all summer with the Swarthmore Project in Theater, with production help from Assistant Professor of Design Laila Swanson and artistic oversight from Assistant Professor of Theater Elizabeth Stevens. She also performed with the help of her light designer and drummer. But “mostly,” Ross said, “it’s a Lori thing.”
Over the summer, she focused on the transfer from the Swarthmore community to the larger Fringe audience. “The concept of preparing a performance for a professional audience can generally be challenging for students who have been in the “comfort zone” of a college department for four years,” Swanson said.
Barkin began writing the piece, then titled “House of Widows,” last December for her senior Solo Performance Thesis. She performed the piece at Swarthmore in February, with the intention of continuing the project and showcasing it in the Philly Fringe Festival. “After seeing Lori’s performance at Swarthmore College…,” Swanson said, “I immediately wanted to do a collaboration with her for the Philly Fringe. I was genuinely struck by the complexity of the script and the characters and amazed by the fact that it could be performed and executed so seemingly effortless by one woman with a casket, an altar, a shawl and a few props.”
The show’s script has remained mostly the same since the February iteration, but Barkin’s presence on the stage is astounding. Her facial expressions alone are enough to take command of the stage, from bright and exuberant, her jaw on the floor; to dark, sullen and inward.
Barkin physically controls the space. She twirls, stomps, and dances to the beat of her drummer one moment, and the next emulates a 90-year-old woman with a past and a hip problem all her own. She jumps up on the table, kicking coffee cups everywhere. She flips around in an internal/external dialogue: “¡Sí!” “No!” “¡Sí!” “No!” “¡Sí!” “No!” Every line, every movement, every sigh is infused with passion and purpose.
Barkin acknowledged the change in her performance: “the acting is more fleshy, deeper, richer,” she said, but that change was “a factor of time.”
Even the change of scene was enough to cast a different light on the performance. Her February performance in the Frear lent the show a kind of intimacy, reminding you of the fact that you and Barkin were alone in the theater, and she was a solo performer. The Maas Building in North Philly gives the show a quality of professionalism, and Barkin certainly owns the space. The brick interior holds some of the original wood ceilings, echoed in her wooden cross and casket. The vibe feels older than the Frear; more mature and professional, but not stuffy.
“Personally, I find the space very appropriate for a funeral setting,” Swanson said. “It evokes a sense of chapel interior…even if the script refers to a home. It may even give a sense of something foreign, differently from what we consider a typical American funeral home.”
The show’s change in title was due to its remounting in the Festival. “‘House of Widows’ is just less compelling than a funeral,” Barkin said. “There’s very little space in the Fringe [Festival] guide,” she said, so it’s important to get the message across as succinctly as possible
Since the show itself has not undergone a huge transformation, Barkin said the hardest aspect of producing it for such a large-scale festival was the managerial component. “I’m still learning how to market, pull an audience, and budget money,” she said.
Swanson spoke of the Fringe Festival as not only an opportunity to showcase her work outside of the Swarthmore community, but also as another milestone for Barkin’s piece and her work in theater. “The Fringe is a test, and I take pleasure in observing the response from spectators who are not Lori’s peers,” Swanson said. “I think the Fringe is a great venue to test first reactions to your work and important as you move forward.”
Using the Fringe Festival as a launching pad, Barkin said she hoped her show would generate “enough enthusiasm for someone to encourage me to submit it to other festivals, or produce it for me. It depends on what doors it opens after.”
Swanson said she’d like to see Barkin take the show to other festivals. “I am hoping to continue supporting Lori after the Fringe, and the next step is tentatively to focus on the text with hopes that she can submit her script to organizations that embraces and produces Latino talents,” Swanson said.
See “The Funeral of Enerio López” this Friday and Saturday.