About halfway through Lameece Issaq’s solo show, a younger man named Gabe dressed as an angel, in a wig and women’s makeup, arrives at the home of the unnamed woman at the center of the story to have sex with her. But, first, she makes a dental mold of his teeth.
“This is the coolest gig I’ve had in a while,” Gabe says. “Weird, but cool.”
Everything leading up to this scene explains each and every weird aspect of it. But “A Good Day To Me Not To You” doesn’t really come into focus until afterward, when the kookiness in the first half yields to a heartbreaking story of a middle-aged woman trying to make up for the past.
The woman is staying at St. Agnes Residence for women on the Upper West Side, run by a group of nuns, who don’t allow male visitors. This is why she made Gabe disguise himself as a woman; the only outfit he had that fit the bill was a costume of an angel.
She’s having sex with him, the first sex she’s had in ten years, because she wants to get pregnant.
She makes a dental mold, because she had wanted to be a dentist – an explanation that, unlike the others, doesn’t make it less weird.
Each of these elements of the scene – and the deeper circumstances for each: why she’s staying at St. Agnes; why she wants to get pregnant; why she didn’t become a dentist — could have been spun into its own play. Instead, they are among the many stories that Issaq narrates and re-enacts from the woman’s life in the first half of her 75-minute play, which feel so randomly selected that I initially didn’t understand the point of “A Good Day To Me Not To You.” Even the awkward title added to my initial bafflement: It’s the greeting from Dorothy, an unhinged resident whom the narrator meets when first moving into St. Agnes. Dorothy is a peripheral figure; why has this become the title?
If the play takes a while – too long – to tie together the seemingly unrelated parts of the woman’s life, it ultimately inspires sympathy for her, and even outrage on her behalf. We eventually figure out that she dropped out of dental school because of her traumatic reaction to the abusive treatment by her classmate and lover, a horrid story that I can’t bring myself to describe here. There are other examples of abusive treatment of women characters, which starts to feel like an underlying theme of the play.
There are other great sorrows. Her beloved younger sister died in childbirth, and she’s been raising the child with her brother-in-law, who abruptly announces that he’s moving with his new girlfriend to Los Angeles. This is why she decides (with a push by her mother) to try to get pregnant, to have her own child.
Director Lee Sunday Evans, artistic director of Waterwell, who has helmed some truly terrific productions (Oratorio for Living Things, Dance Nation), makes some choices here that kept the story at a greater distance for me than it could have been. Most notably this is the mounting of this one-person play at the relatively huge stage of the Connelly Theater, using a set design of St. Agnes that doesn’t add much and tends to swallow up the actress. Issaq portrays almost a dozen characters, most winningly her five-year-old nephew Samm, but she’s not especially gifted in mimicry, and it could have been made clearer who is speaking when.
I do wish that the woman at the heart of “A Good Day To Me Not To You” had been given a name. Lameece Issaq, the former artistic director of Noor Theater who is best-known for her acclaimed 2012 play Food and Fadwa, gives such a palpable presence to her character that some may mistakenly assume the play is autobiographical. Issaq certainly lends the woman pieces of herself: She too once lived in St. Agnes, she too has a nephew. And she too – like most New Yorkers – routinely runs into deranged Dorothy types, like the one who told her “You have a spiritual infection in your intestines…and your vagina” – a line she repeats in the play.
A Good Day To Me Not To You
Waterwell at Connelly Theater through December 16
Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission
$15-$95 (sliding scale ticket initiative)
Written and performed by Lameece Issaq
Directed by Lee Sunday Evans
Set design by Peiyi Wong, llghting design by Mextly Couzin, costume design by Jian Jung, composer and sound designer Avi Amon
Photos by Maria Baranova