"You've got to find your own personal beat," says Bo-Nita, the titular teenager of Portland Center Stage's one-woman production. It's a sentiment, however familiar, that the show never abandons. Written by Seattle playwright Elizabeth Heffron and directed by Gretchen Corbett, Bo-Nita follows the spunky 13-year-old and her mother, Mona, as they react to discovering Bo-Nita's sort-of stepfather lying dead on the floor. Outrageously dysfunctional chaos ensues as the mother-daughter duo tries to hold everything together the best way they know how—a plan involving fishnet stockings and a belly-dancing costume.
Kate Eastwood Norris deftly embodies six characters, one moment loose and gangly and awkward as Bo-Nita, and seconds later adopting the stern intonation of a mother not to be questioned. She nails the timing throughout, capturing a wordless, argumentative staring contest between lovers, or an uncomfortable car-ride conversation between mother and daughter. Helpful details in the scriptâfrom how Mona holds meatloaf in her cheek for an entire conversation to how the family must Gorilla-glue their carpetâshow character and environment when Norris canât. More often than not, though, heavy subject matter lurks behind the laughs. Even when Bo-Nitaâs personal beat is buoyant, this remains a complex dance with a dark bite.
GO: Bo-Nita is at the Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Sundays; 2 pm Saturdays-Sundays; noon Thursdays through March 16. $40-$55. Tickets here.