Urbanite Theatre continues to deliver big gusto in small packages with its current production of Elizabeth Heffron’s Bo-Nita, a comedy-drama featuring just one actress—the talented Terri Weagant—but a fascinating landscape of characters.
The protagonist is the 13-year-old Bo-Nita, whom we first meet on a park bench, attired in scruffy clothes and equipped with a backpack and a water bottle. She’s got a lot more than that, though, really; she’s got smarts, humor and enough strength to overcome what life has thrown her way.
The latest obstacle in her young life is her semi-step-daddy Gerard, a one-eighth Cajun with big lips who experiences a heart attack while paying a visit to Bo-Nita that is, strictly speaking, against a restraining order. Bo-Nita’s reaction to watching him “writhe” around on her bedroom floor is not exactly filled with concern. But we understand why as Weagant renders up deadly impersonations of Gerard; her currently on probation mother, Mona; her now-dead grandmother Tina, a former belly dancer; a lawn-mower-driving uncle; Gerard’s brother; and a tile salesman named Leon who gets mixed up in all the family drama.
If that sounds like the lifestyle of what some would label “white trash,” indeed it is. But Bo-Nita and even her mother (whom Weagant portrays as a smoker, a drinker and a fantasist but nevertheless one with a certain charm) are striving in their own ways to rise above their past and present, even while dealing with the craziness that Gerard’s current medical situation imposes upon them.
In other hands, the storytelling here could be grim, and there are darker moments when Bo-Nita struggles explosively with her inner turmoil. But there are also moments that are just laugh-out-loud funny, especially when Weagant enacts a sort of puppet show taking place in an out-of-control Chrysler Sebring.
Through it all, Weagant, under the empathetic direction of Kirstin Franklin, is engaging, smart and adept at switching gears from role to role and mood to mood, aided by minimal set and props and Ryan E. Finzelber’s evocative lighting. Bo-Nita is a wild ride, no doubt about it, but one definitely worth taking.
Bo-Nita continues through April 30 at Urbanite Theatre; for tickets call 321-1397 or visit urbanitetheatre.com.