Review: ‘Joy Rebel’ at the Logan Festival of Solo Performance at 1st Stage

Joy Rebel, written and performed by Khanisha Foster, is a moving, deep dive into fluid identity and the fraught experiences of a mixed-race human being. Joy Rebel is a revealing autobiographical performance by Foster, a mixed-race woman with a dad who is black and a mom who is white. Foster identifies as black and white. Joy Rebel is part of the 3rd Annual Logan Festival of Solo Performance at 1st Stage.

Khanisha Foster. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Khanisha Foster. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Foster is exceedingly engaging and frank as both a storyteller and a narrator. She does not just spew forth dry facts. Rather, she spins the tale of her complicated life full of winning theatrical creativity, absorbing details and humor. She is clear with this; her dad was in and out of prison and was a Black Panther. Both her dad and mom were heroin addicts at points in their lives. Her physical movements, rich vocal inflections, captivating dance moves, and even her amplified breathing are magnets into her solo performance.

As directed by Lou Bellamy, Foster’s 90-minute intermission-free performance is full of characters. The many characters Foster portrays beyond herself over the several decades of her real life run the gamut; her dad and mom, her grandparents and cousins, along with short-sighted medical professionals and diverse school children.

And then there are also those who pride themselves on being open to diversity but are quite dismissive, practicing their own kind of discrimination. Artistic leadership, agents, directors and casting directors see Foster as Latina/Latinx. She is considered an actor best fit to play, in Foster’s words, “maids, lesbians and disabled lesbian maids.” Or she is asked if she can “do a Ghetto accent.”

So some more specifics about Joy Rebel. Foster shares moments about fearing the loss of a prized possession when her Dad pays an unexpected visit after his release from prison. She shares the sadness of knowing her white grandmother did not approve of mixed-race children. She shares the delight of learning she can make her parents and others laugh. She shares plenty of other vivid memories including how “to curl” her voice. Tales of diverse Thanksgiving celebrations are truly priceless.

The set for Joy Rebel is minimal; basically a turquoise chair and a standing microphone.  But adding tremendously to the theatrical interest of Joy Rebel is its striking pre-show sound design by John Acarregul. The pre-show music greeting incoming audiences is a cavalcade of hip hop music of diverse genres full of “who am I” type lyrics. Very fitting.

Joy Rebel is brave. It is Khanisha Foster’s solo unfiltered account of herself that she makes a gift to audiences. It is a gift that explores biracial identity, about blending in and standing out, about survival. It is about learning how far someone might go to find a job. It is about a human being who one moment “crumbles to the floor,” but has learned to stand up tall and straight. It is about a woman who loves her husband.

Finally the title Joy Rebel comes from the rebellious joy of making others laugh so their days are not so dark. So that they and anyone can enjoy laughter.

Running Time: About 90 minutes with no intermission.

Joy Rebel is presented as part of 1st Stage’s 3rd Annual Logan Festival of Solo Performances through July 21, 2019, at 1524 Spring Hill Road, Tysons, VA 22102. For tickets, call 703-854-1856 or go online.

Note: Khanisha Foster is a Theatre Communications Group ‘Rising Leader of Color’ and an adjunct lecturer at the USC School of Dramatic Arts. Additionally, she hosts the podcast How I Wrote That, which focuses on women who write for TV and film.

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David Siegel
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on DC Metro Theater Arts, ShowBiz Radio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with the American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.