At the beginning of Forgetting the Details, a one-woman show performed by actress-comedienne Nicole Maxali, she — narrating as a present-day version of herself — turns to the audience and asks: “Are memories enough when people and places are no longer there?” The show, which is featured as part of this year’s New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC) at The White Box, continually asks this question throughout the next hour and a half, as Maxali takes us back to her childhood in San Francisco, where she was selflessly raised by her grandmother, or Lola, as it is called in Tagalog.
Maxali deftly switches from character to character as she re-enacts her experiences growing up in a very Filipino, unusually American household. There’s Lola Encar, the eccentric but loving grandmother who raised her as her free-spirited artist-musician father Max whiled away the hours playing along to Jimi Hendrix records and smoking things that weren’t the “cigarette kind” in their basement. Then there’s Nikki, a past version of Maxali, who is every bit the opposite of what a “good” apo, or grandchild, should be (which is to say: she wasn’t a virginal, Tagalog-fluent, conservatively dressed young woman with a nursing degree). Through these characters, Maxali looks back at these snapshots in time with a careful, sensitive eye, taking us all on an emotional journey. For young Nikki, everything starts to change when she comes home one day to find the door locks changed, and Lola Encar frantically pleading to go to the police station. Soon, more confusing behavior occurs, and after a “hearing” test, the doctor confirms that it is early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Now, not only do Nikki and Max each have to cope with the pain that only a disease like Alzheimer’s can bring, but also re-evaluate their own lives, making sacrifices for the one person who sacrificed everything for them. This means having to prioritize family above all else — including their art. For Nikki, crumbling under pressure to be a “good” apo also means leaving her acting dreams on the back-burner.
The show’s title may seem to only refer to Lola Encar’s diminishing memory at first glance; however, by the show’s end we realize that it’s not just Lola Encar who forgets the details, but Nikki, as well. The same memories she has of Lola cooking Filipino-American mash-ups (sweet spaghetti with hot dogs, anyone?) and handing out ice cream to her second-grade classmates during recess are vivid and yet start to slowly fade into obscurity in her Lola‘s absence. In a scene entitled “I Heart Lola,” Maxali proudly states: “Lolas show their love through food, through cooking, through acts of service…the first question in any Filipino household is, ‘Have you eaten yet?'” And just as her Lola‘s dishes nourished her body and soul, we also leave the theater nourished by Maxali’s dazzingly honest performance. She serves up a perfect blend of comedy and tragedy with a dash of some unique charm — all lovingly brought together the same way her own Lola would in the kitchen. The end result is a pot-belly full of laughter, tears and a heart full of warmth, all of which will make you want to dig up those old photo albums and hug your own Lola.
Images courtesy of Mike Ricca. Forgetting the Details ran from August 13-22 at The White Box (440 Lafayette Street between Astor Place and East 4th Street) as part of the New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC). For more information on this production and Ms. Maxali’s other works, click here. For more information on FringeNYC, go here.