Polly: A One-Woman Musical
"Polly: A One-Woman Musical," at Little London Dinner Theater
by Eric D. Snider
Published on March 3, 2000
Why would you want to see a one-woman show about the life of Mormon pioneer Polly Matilda Merrill Colton, whom you've probably never heard of?
Because everyone, no matter how ordinary, has an interesting story to tell. That's the idea behind "Polly: A One-Woman Musical," starring Johanne Frechette Perry, written by her husband Steven Kapp Perry, and currently playing at the Little London Dinner Theater.
By her own admission, Polly is a non-famous, unremarkable gal. In 1891, at the end of her life, she tells the audience that if they want remarkable women, they should read about "Eliza R. Snow ... Smith ... Young ... or whoever she's got herself attached to lately." Or Mary Graves, a Donner Party survivor who ate belts, shoes, and her fellow travelers.
Such is the irreverent frontier humor possessed by Polly (who is the great-great-great-grandmother of Steven Kapp Perry). Her introduction is as an old widow in Ashley, Utah (now called Vernal), but she soon takes us back to when she was 14 and having crushes on boys in her little Shelby, Mich., schoolroom.
Perry plays Polly at every age from 14 to 75, subtly changing her voice and mannerisms as she grows older. (By the time she is 75, she has also acquired a rural Utah accent.) She tells us her story through conversations with other people (whom we don't see or hear), through speaking to us directly, and through quite a bit of singing. The songs are generally tuneful and pretty, often funny, always well-written and intricately rhymed. (Polly's song about Salt Lake City is a classic, with lines like "Got no use for the great bald eagle / Our state bird's a regurgitatin' seagull," and a sly reference to polygamy.)
Polly marries Philander Colton, and they are converted by missionary Parley P. Pratt. They have children, one of whom dies as a baby -- a fact that is not merely glossed over, as is often the case in pioneer stories. Polly mourns the loss deeply, and with great emotion.
Philander later serves in the Mormon Battalion, leaving Polly to cross the plains with her kids, some sickly oxen and a stubborn cow. The deaths of loved ones are the only major catastrophes in their lives; this is not a story that is driven by exciting plot twists or incredible miracles.
Which is precisely the point. Though Polly insists she's quite unremarkable, by the end she -- and we -- realize that anyone who joins the LDS Church, crosses the plains, settles in the wilderness and lives to be 75 is pretty remarkable indeed.
Perry's incarnation of Polly is solid and believable. Anyone planning to do a show in which they are the only character had better catch the audience's interest, and Perry manages this beautifully. You find yourself glad she's the only character, because she's so fascinating, beautiful and strong that you don't want to be bothered having to watch anyone else. Her singing voice is heavenly, her acting skills energetic and focused, making this a truly enjoyable show.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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