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She's Down

Mishna Wolff's rites-of-passage comedy is on the cusp of greatness

With “I’m Down,” presented as a workshop performance at the People’s Improv Theater on May 4, Mishna Wolff has all the makings of a hilarious show about childhood and adolescence. The milieu is a poor black neighborhood where her father has chosen to stay after getting divorced, because, as he says in a repeated refrain attempting to be profound, “Your neighborhood is where you live.”

Mishna thought the divorce would be her escape with her mom to a nicer neighborhood, but her father keeps custody of her and her sister -- another family member who becomes a sort of nemesis, a la the evil niece Bernie Mac describes in his stand-up.

The other constant of Mishna’s life becomes Sundays at black Baptist church, something she wants to abstain from. Wolff has a good command of her characters’ different voices -- her father’s black-sounding “mmms” and pauses after sentences, his father’s domino-playing buddies, and the different types of kids in school and summer programs.

Wolff has a unique point of view and unique material, and elicits distinct laughs from her comically sad tales of not fitting in. The title itself is her goal, which she eventually gets closer to through “capping,” the trading of insults among the kids.

Helped by slides of her family and friends, and a bit of George Benson R&B from the early ’80s, Wolff’s show could use more audio-visual punctuation, however, which may be in the works as she refines the show -- such as spotlights to heighten the more tragicomic moments of her stories, or more songs of the era between stories.

Despite all the sardonic jokes in this show, it’s a tale of surviving an adverse youth -- made easy to relate to through Wolff’s skilled portrayal of the novel characters of her life.

Mishna Wolff performs “I’m Down” 8 p.m. Saturday, May 6 at the People’s Improv Theater.



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