Thursday, July 21, 2016

Review: Becoming Aya

By Michael Block

Identifying yourself is something we've all done at some point in our life. Sometimes it takes one occurrence to spark that search. In Aya Aziz's Eh Dah?: Questions for My Father, Aziz takes the audience on an extraordinary journey to find her cultural identity.
Written and performed by Aya Aziz, Eh Dah? is a greatly ambitious undertaking. Aziz tackles more than a dozen characters from her life to tell the story of finding just exactly who she is in this world and in her cultures. It’s a solo musical but in its current state, it’s more of a play with musical interludes. The content of Aziz's story is what makes Eh Dah?. Sadly, the structure of a one woman musical is simply not serving her best. Aziz is not a dominating character actress. Many of her characters shared physical and vocal similarities that even when trying to match positions on stage, it was difficult to differentiate. But with the story being the focal point through narration, Eh Dah? may be best discovered as a cabaret of story and song where Aziz parks herself behind a microphone and piano and shares. Aziz’s demeanor is naturally laid back. Due to this, Eh Dah? needed a spark of life to get the emerging surging. If this was Aziz at an energy level of five, imagine what ten would look like. When she was animated, that’s when she found life. But that was seldom. With the book and structure not serving the story the best, it was her music that stood out. The score Aziz crafted featured beautiful cultural influences. And this music fit her voice well. Her voice may not be powerful but it sure is flavorful. Aziz could easily record a demo that would inspire. But in terms of musical theater, Eh Dah? didn’t quite fit the mold consistently.
photo by Shivani Badgi
Perhaps it was due to the libretto but there was some sloppy direction filled with holes. Director Corinne Proctor tried real hard to help Aziz move from character to character but there was such a long lag, it felt amateurish. The overall tempo needed to be picked up. Even at ninety minutes, Aziz could shave off some time in her storytelling simply by making this piece more intimate. For whatever the reason, the production design by Arpita Mukherjee and Kyle Rosenberg felt undeveloped. It’s a shame those generic chairs were used. The table with the drawers worked well with Proctor’s staging but the fabric on top added nothing. When it came to lighting, there were nice bursts of colors to help signify mood but if there was ever something that can take you out of the moment, it’s having to hear the color scrollers in the lighting units.
Eh Dah?: Questions for My Father felt out of the element at NYMF. With the right guidance, Aya Aziz can have a future with this piece. In this current state, she needs something more. It needs to be fleshed out. Aziz has an important message to share. It’s there. A new theatrical angle may be what she needs.