[note: I wrote this review after attending an August performance of “9 Ounces.” Elements of the December show may vary from what is described here.]
Anastacia Tolbert’s one-woman show “9 Ounces” gives viewers a glimpse into the lives and inner monologues of three Black women and girls with an 84-year age range: Luna, Alice, and Seraphina. Their stories are linked through their shared co-op residence, their loving but sometimes strained relationships with each other, and the trauma of being Black in the face of constant racist police brutality — “It could happen to me” is a refrain throughout the show.
Tolbert’s writing and acting are superb; the characters vibrant, whole, and distinct while sharing an actress. Alice, coping with depression, loss, and addiction, addresses the audience as she talks to herself, a strategy suggested by her very cute therapist. Her thoughts wander through unsatisfying and racist moments on the bus, getting kicked out of Seraphina’s knitting club, trying to get back in touch with her sexuality, and more.
Seraphina, Alice’s 91-year-old neighbor, also talking to herself, recounts her own struggle on the bus: she’s fought for the right to sit at the front of the bus, but now young people won’t offer a seat. She approaches the situation with frustration, but also with humor.
Luna, a deeply spiritual 7-year-old, isn’t talking to the mirror — she’s putting on a show with her friend Lightbulb (who is a lightbulb). As her mommy has told her, sometimes she has to be her own audience. Luna wants people to stop making fun of her mommy, who works and goes to school and spends time with her when she can. Luna also likes to shout “vagina!” because it makes adults uncomfortable.
Although most of the show is composed of the characters talking to themselves, it passes the Bechdel-Wallace test (along with other feminist media tests) spectacularly. This Black woman’s representation of nuanced Black women and girls is a desperately needed gift when our media neglects and distorts Black women and girls.
The show’s title, “9 Ounces,” refers to the average weight of a (cis) woman’s heart, and “9 Ounces” is heavy, full of heart, and ultimately cathartic. It’s also deeply political and makes clear that non-Black viewers’ emotional journeys will not be sufficient; what’s needed from us is concrete action against systemic racism.
Use this outstanding show as an opportunity to educate yourself, bear witness, and start or continue thinking about how to support Black women in overthrowing racism and heteropatriarchy.
“9 Ounces” will be at Gay City from Thursday, December 15th to Sunday, December 18th, running from 7 to 10 p.m. each night. Tickets cost $12-20. For more details, see the Facebook event page.