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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: Molly Rose-Williams “We Are All Friends” Dec. 1-4, 2022 NOHSpace, San Francisco

With We Are All Friends Molly Rose-Williams has created a solo work on herself that is simply enchanting. That is not to say that it is simplistic, just the opposite is true. It is full of purpose and worthy of multiple viewings. Rose-Williams is a seemingly natural performer. She moves with grace and athleticism. Her elastic and expressive facial expressions carry us between the joy and agony of first love. We share in her longing, wonder, excitement and frustration. In the comfort and intimacy of the NOH Space Rose-Williams is able to captivate the audience, drawing us in, gaining our trust and eventually making us willing participants. No doubt many who experience Rose-Williams’s evocation of a crush, leave with a crush on her.

The narrative arc of We Are All Friends moves Rose-Williams from a hesitant open-palmed wave from the far corner to the final moments when she confidently guides the audience through a self-affirmation hug, like a skilled preacher or a roadside huckster.

In the opening section Rose-Williams uses a sequence of angular hand and arm movements to communicate with the audience. Each time she repeats the sequence she adds a phrase, perhaps a curvy body sidewave or the lengthening of an imaginary line between her hands.

Photo: Molly Rose-Williams performing in her solo work "We Are All Friends" photo credit Chani Backwinkel

Her animated expressions help to fill the gaps, yet she remains unsatisfied by our lack of understanding. She whispers “you” pointing at us and “I” as she pats her chest. Next, she mimes lifting something heavy off the ground and then clenching her hands. We long to know all that she is saying just as she longs to be understood. When she finally succumbs to voicing the situation, it seems that Rose-Williams has a crush on the person in the front row. The one she has been waving and gazing at from the start. She hopes maybe the person has a crush on her too.

Upon finally admitting her crush, a poignant self-doubt sets in. Blue light fills the space and a whirling machine noise is heard. Rose-Williams, in a frenzied state, shakes her hands near her head and hides in a corner. We empathize and giggle.

Rose-Williams’s physicality brings laughter as often as her banter. When she decides to go see the object of her affection, rather than walk across the stage, she crawls along the backwall, scurries spread-eagle along a sidewall and skims the floor on her stomach. taking the most indirect path possible. Upon arriving she has a soto voce conversation with the person sitting next to her crush, gathering intel, hoping the person is single or at least poly.

When Rose-Williams gets up the nerve to shake hands with her not yet sweetheart, she runs offstage to whoop. “Love Is In the Air” plays as she prances, skips, salsas and swims through a sea of projected hearts. Her infectious happy dance concludes with a balloon release.

Patting and kicking the balloons Rose-Williams tries to keep at least some floating in the air. The balloons (a symbol of a relationship) move from happy toy to requiring upkeep work immediately. A comic monologue, with Rose-Williams speaking in four distinct accents, develops. She speaks as our prim teacher (British accent),as her hands (Rose-Williams’ true voice expressing her anxious doubts about love), as her heart (Man’s voice hardened from multiple experiences with heart ache) and as the balloon (a jaded female Jersey accent). The balloon tells us that even when full of helium, it is porous and gravity will force it to fall to the ground eventually.

Unwilling to take the jaded view that love always ends, Rose-Williams matchmakes, compelling two audience members to hold hands as she breathlessly grills them about the nature of their love. Hands are powerful in Rose-Williams’ world, making it all the more meaningful when her left hand finds the right. They have some sexy fun with each other, just two hands wrestling with some heavy breathing.

There’s a memorable section where Rose-Williams uses grass as a metaphor for love. Grey grass happens when things are going off the tracks. Through pantomime she creates another person, her lover, for whom she performs increasingly frantic and antic things to try to make grey grass green once more. We see them watering, parching, fertilizing, and therapizing. Rose-Williams widens her side lunge incrementally as the frequency of the grass watering increases. She only abandons watering after squeezing out every inch of extension from her long limbs. She plunges her fists toward the floor, as if setting land mines, while making explosion noises and muttering about chemical fertilizers is a last resort.

Photo: Molly Rose-Williams performing in her solo work "We Are All Friends" photo credit Chani Backwinkel

Self-improvement is our next stop. We are Rose-Williams’s self-help buddies as she practices Deep-breathing (10 fast shallow gasps), Self-compassion (an audience participatory body rubbing), Mindfulness (lying face down unmoving) and Gratitude (leading audience in forward-looking self-talk). During Affirmation Rose-Williams, in plank position facing us, declares “I am utterly amazing” and then drops and log rolls several feet before bouncing up in plank once more to declare another positive “I am hydrated.” Over and over she planks, speaks, rolls, planks, speaks, rolls, until finally she arrives at “I am here.” Her fitness makes this look easy, but her sweat gives her away.

In the end Rose-Williams chooses to align with herself. Her shadow clearly projected on the sidewall, she approaches it with respect. Hand touching shadow hand, they match each other’s every gesture and impulse. Rose-Williams balances on her toes, her chest and arms against the wall as she defies gravity climbing and sliding down the wall.

Comedian, modern dancer, actor, clown, athlete, storyteller - Rose-Williams is all these things. An intelligent artist who is able to be accessible, genuine and vulnerable, it’s a delight to spend an hour in her company.

Review by Jen Norris published December 5, 2022

_________________________________ Production Credits: We Are All Friends December 1-4, 2022, Thu & Fri @ 7:30pm // Sat @ 4pm & 7:30pm // Sun @ 4pm NOHSpace, 2840 Mariposa St, San Francisco, CA 94110

Created and performed by Molly Rose-Williams Lighting design by Del Medoff Music by Ben Juodvalkis Additional music and audio editing by Molly Rose-Williams A couple of songs that already existed: “Love Is In the Air” by John Paul Young “Daydream” by Lovin’ Spoonful (karaoke version)

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