My Crown of Glory
Also see Sharon's review of The Big Voice: God or Merman?
The problem with many one-person autobiographical shows is that the performer hasn't lived a life worth dramatizing. This is not a problem with Shannon Branham's My Crown of Glory. Branham comes to the theatre with a story to tell: she grew up in a Catholic family with a mother who could not handle all of her children, a father who was oppressive and abusive, and a family tree whose branches circled back on themselves in unusual ways. Young Shannon was overweight, friendless, and endlessly inquisitive - this latter trait frequently getting her in trouble with her parents. She also attended confession regularly, believing that she was too sinful and often required penance. Her story is not as depressing as it sounds. Branham is clearly doing fine now, and her tale is one of acceptance and recovery. It's also pretty funny, as Branham is at a point in her life where she can laugh at the child she once was and the situations in which she found herself.
The other point which differentiates My Crown of Glory from less successful one-person shows is that Branham has a storyteller's eye for detail. Thus, even though most of her audience thankfully cannot relate to her dysfunctional family, we can all remember Toughskins, banana bicycle seats, and "Match Game '78." Branham brings the audience into her memories by painting visual pictures with familiar colors and pop culture references.
As a performer, Branham is somewhat uneven. She is excellent at giving voice to a sympathetic priest - Branham does not attempt a different accent for the man; she simply pauses before each of his softly-spoken statements, a technique which gives his words gravity. Branham is also extremely good at portraying her mother, particularly at one point when her mother has a tantrum. Branham sustains the intensity of her mother's irrational rage as well as the pain from which it is born, throughout several minutes, in a memorable portrayal of a troubled parent. But there are two areas in which Branham needs improvement: she is very uneven in her use of a childlike voice for her younger self in an early scene; and when she is playing three characters having an argument, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate among them.
There are also a few awkward lines in the script. At one point, Branham, as her younger self, tells her father that he did something that he just did. The comment is apparently intended for the benefit of the audience, but we already know what her father did, and it is unlikely that young Shannon would have done a play-by-play on the action as it was occurring. For the most part, however, Branham's script is successful, balancing comedy and drama, fights and love, sin and salvation. Its short one-hour running time goes by quickly, and after sharing this hour of childhood memories with Branham, the audience leaves with an admiration for her ability to come to terms with her past, and for the person she has become.
Branham, Breihof, Kamp, Schlesinger & Zeoli Productions in association with the Raven Playhouse present My Crown of Glory, Written and Performed by Shannon Branham. Directed by Beverly Sanders. Produced by Keith Irace; Creative Consultant and Sound Design by Ted Kamp; Lighting Designed by Peter Strauss; Graphic Design by Kathy Valladares; Publicity by Philip Sokoloff; Assistant Stage Manager Jonathan Miles.
My Crown of Glory plays at the Raven Playhouse in North Hollywood, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., through November 9. Tickets are $15. For reservations and information, call 310-585-9193.
Photo by Dennis Kent