Susan Bernfield is scared of everything. She fears both the uncertainty of life and the unpredictability of the people in it. In her one-woman show, Tiny Feats of Cowardice, she explains the depth of these fears through a musical collage of thematically arranged monologues. A three-person band accompanies Bernfield onstage playing a soundtrack composed by Rachel Peters. Peters' music underscores the moments in Bernfield’s life that are barely noteworthy to us, but deeply paralyzing to her.
In her opening, Bernfield remarks that the themes have been organized in a very specific, purposeful manner. Unfortunately, the topic of the next piece tends to get lost when the transition becomes too frenzied. This is the type of play where the line between reality and fiction is easily blurred, and though Bernfield is playing a timid character, the actress herself appears to be legitimately nervous. She hurries through many of her sentences and at times can not be heard above the band.
But a one-person show could scare even the bravest of souls, and it is evident that Bernfield is proud of herself just for daring to command that spotlight
She plays a twelve-, twenty-, and thirty-year-old version of herself, switching from one personality to the next in a matter of minutes. Her demeanor does not change dramatically as she moves from child to adulthood, but the actress emotes such a youthful energy that it feels right for her character.
This piece has a fast, friendly energy and Bernfield nicely establishes an intimate, informal rapport with her audience. She does apologize beforehand for a 9-11 monologue, and is right to be uncertain. The monologue feels out of place and derails the spunky, upbeat mood that is the heart of her work.
Though Bernfield admits she is excessive in her fears, she touches on little things that have at one time or another plagued us all, from riding a horse (how does it know where it’s going?), to the finality of sealing an envelope. But Bernfield says it best in one of her final monologues: out of all her many fears, the most daunting one of all is exposing her soul on a stage.
Tiny Feats of Cowardice is part of the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival.