Harriet Patteron “Sail On!”
Sarah Haas • August 19, 2017 • 2017 Boulder International Fringe Festival •
Performed by San Francisco’s Harriet Patterson, “Sail On!” is like having a much needed conversation about mental illness, one you’ve been avoiding your whole life.
Unassuming in her printed paisley shirt and black slacks, Harriet Patterson takes a seat in the chair, her only prop, at center stage. The room is silent and her eyes closed as she begins with a sweet rendition of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” rocking back and forth as if singing herself a lullaby. When she opens her eyes she scans the room, intent on making eye contact with everyone in the audience. She’s talking about her eyebrows, a bushy and unruly inheritance from her father, as if it were just you there, listening to her tale. Oddly, it feels like a conversation. It’s just that she’s doing the talking for both of you.
Over the next 45 minutes her one-woman show unfolds as a performance somewhere in between storytelling and theater — an appropriate mix for a narrative woven of the always semi-fictional threads of memory. As she pulls on them, we see the world as she did through the various phases of her life, moving from innocuous childhood stories to more loaded ones that slowly unveil her father’s schizophrenia. She gives us a chance to grow up beside her and to wonder what it means to love and be loved by a father who is perpetually in a state of disarray.
What begins as a theatrical investigation into memory transforms into one that questions the limits of sanity itself. Patterson shows you what it was like to recognize her father’s insanity, to live with it’s reality and, ultimately, what it is like to reconcile his altered state of mind with the consensual love between them.
Patterson’s piece is thoughtful, illuminating and complete — the narrative arc perfectly coincides with what it must be like to live with a mind that unravels with no false hopes of resolution. And as the show closes you know your mind has been opened, too. Insanity no longer feels other than you, but like something intimate and somehow strangely familiar.
You can enjoy “Sail On!” at Trident Booksellers and Cafe