It's an overused term these days, but Sha Cage is fierce. The actor brings a rarely seen intensity to any role she tackles. This fierceness earned her a well-deserved Ivey Award last Monday for Frank Theatre's Grounded, and it is all over her solo show U/G/L/Y.
(Another sign of her fierceness? Thursday evening's performance was Cage's second opening of the day, following Ten Thousand Thing's Henry IV, Part 1 in the afternoon.)
As you may guess from the title, Cage's work examines how individuals and society define beauty. She's particularly interested in how that affects women of color. The multimedia piece uses storytelling, movement, music (provided live by Katherine Pehrson), and video. The material is at turns funny, moving, and heartbreaking. Cage has reached into a well of stories, some drawn from her own family's experiences, to build the work.
And while society takes the brunt of the blame here (as it should), U/G/L/Y never feels pedantic. Cage isn't lecturing us on how society forces unrealistic and damaging concepts of beauty onto people. Instead, that idea is one of many woven into the various pieces.
The work is at turns poetic and raw. There are particularly harrowing stories about women seen as possessions by others. Those others attempt to destroy what they ultimately cannot have. In another piece, Cage turns into a princess to be, complete with red pumps and cape; and then a clown who has an air-violin duel with Pehrson.
Perhaps the most affecting moments of the show come from the videos, where a number of women give their unvarnished thoughts on themselves and "beauty." It helps to bring home a central message: Our self image is a product of a hard-to-untangle mass of impulses, history, and pressures from our culture, families, and ourselves.
Cage, working with director E.G. Bailey and Freestyle Theatre, has created a multilayered piece that sticks in the head with its bevy of ideas, images, and words.
U/G/L/Y is a piece that has been long in development, and has a life following this short Guthrie run. Following, the show will travel to other places in the United States and England. I'd advise local audiences to make it to the Guthrie this weekend before you have to make a long trip to see Cage's singular work.
IF YOU GO
818 S. Second St., Minneapolis
For tickets and information, call 612-377-2224 or visit online.