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Monday, Jan. 16, 2012

Marti Gobel Shines in Renaissance's 'Neat'

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Renaissance Theaterworks continues its three-year “Diversity Series” with an impressive production of Charlayne Woodard's autobiographical show, Neat. The one-woman show, featuring the diverse talents of Uprooted Theatre co-founder Marti Gobel, follows the 20th-century African-American experience through Woodard's life and that of her developmentally challenged aunt, Neat.

Tackling a feature show as a solo act is a fine art. Gobel focuses more on storytelling than dazzling characterizations—a shrewd way to handle this challenge. When playing multiple characters, as Gobel does here, it's easy to over-render the performance of each character, thus bogging down the flow of the story. But Gobel understands that the flow is crucial for the rhythm of a story that finds its narrator moving briskly from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. We see a child grow to understand her cultural heritage and learn an awareness of civil rights and feminism in this breathtaking show.

All of the progress and change in the narrator's life is contrasted against the eternal youth of Neat. The latter half of the 20th century was a tumultuous time. The mystery of Neat's pregnancy serves as a striking metaphor for the unknown as society progresses into the future. It's a beautiful progression that Gobel gracefully glides through. Thanks to her performance, it's a show that feels entirely too short.

Renaissance Theaterworks' production of Neat runs through Feb. 5 at the Broadway Theatre Center's Studio Theatre. For ticket reservations, call 414-291-7800.