|DAENA: TURNING THEATRE UPSIDE DOWN
by Beverly Creasey The Boston Citizen Journal
Daena Giardella explodes on the stage. Her material is the fare of stand-up performance: breaking up, the wrong mate, psychobabble, even an overbearing mother. But don't be fooled. Her medium is definitely theatre, not club comedy. She inhabits every inch of the stage like a hologram: inside out, upside down, right side up. She's everywhere. And she's every character in the play all by herself: the ex-husband, the intrusive mother, the dying friend; she's even her own hilarious inner child come to call just when she wishes she wouldn't.
What's even more astounding that Giardella's powerful physicality and her impeccable comic timing is that her performance is wildly different each night. Like the jazz musician who creates variations on a musical theme, Giardella works from a scripted text and departs fearlessly from it depending on her mood that night, or the mood and interaction of the audience she engages in the performance. "It's a different journey each night," she says. "I hit islands in the plot but I journey to the islands each night in different ways."
Giardella's forté is what she calls "character work." She examines the "interior world of a character" in order to chart "a life and what happens in that life." Because of her razor sharp improvisational skills, Giardella's characters are seen, she explains, "in the art of becoming." She stopped doing scripted work because she loves "the immediacy that is possible in theatrical alchemy, when the unexpected is elevated to a place of importance."
"I'm in love with the art of the moment...opening up a moment, letting its images speak and letting it go," she says. "It's utterly thrilling to stand on a firm foundation [the script] and to leap off into the unknown and not know which character will come out...it's spontaneous playwriting: I think of myself as writing, acting and directing, editing internally as I go along," she says. "I can go off on any number of tangents as long as I can find a tributary back to the spine of the piece."
Heady stuff, this flying without a net but Giardella savors every moment of risk. The reward is something she calls the "collective psyche" of a performance event, when actor and audience connect. "There's no such thing," she maintains, "as an observer...everyone is participating, through their laughter, through their imagination." And Giardella taps right into the audience energy: into what she has named the "ritual dimension." More than once she has ridden a wave of improvisation on a subject like death only to discover someone in the audience was dealing with the death of a loved one. Giardella is in her element when she is "using the performance as a vehicle to reach out to someone." It's hard to believe with all that comic talent that she doesn't "go out there to make people laugh," she says. Giardella ventures out with the sole purpose of "reflecting the absurdity, the familiarity, the outrage, the pain, the struggle and the joy of being human." And what an adventure it is.
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