Emma Crystal
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Emma Crystal

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The best kept secret in music


"I Am Somebody... else"

I am somebody…else
April 25, 2009 · No Comments
Review by Laura L. Sullivan

Last weekend I was treated to an amazing one-woman show, written and performed by Emma Crystal. I had seen Crystal only once before, in last year’s Hattiloo production of Macbeth directed by Cookie Ewing, where she shone as one of the Three Witches (who, delightfully, sung Supremes-style throughout to add a contemporary musical dimension to the drama).

An autobiographical play that is by turns poignant and hilarious, I am somebody…else captures the pivotal moments of an African-American girl’s upbringing in Memphis, as well as Crystal’s later experiences as an actress and dancer in New York City. The narrative frame revolves around Emma packing up to move out of her apartment – two weeks after she’s promised her now irate landlady, who periodically contacts her throughout the day to insist that she leaves. *

Selected highlights of a clearly eventful and colorful life pepper this piece, which overall depicts Crystal’s transformation into a confident woman who likes herself and who claims her own power. One episode that stood out for me – and which was an especially pivotal event for Crystal – was the adolescent Emma’s 1972 school field trip to see Jesse Jackson speak at the Cook Convention Center, where, for the first time, Emma experienced someone holding out her worth. Taking Jackson’s mantra, ‘I am Somebody’, to heart, Emma is on her way to healing from the shame already imposed upon her at that young age. When Jackson holds out this proclamation of (self-)worth, he provides a counter-view to the racism and sexism that have led Emma to feel bad about herself.

In this piece, Crystal does as much ‘showing’ as she does ‘telling’. As Emma folds clothes and packs, she tells us stories about her life, often dropping into character to become herself at another age or the subject of her memory. The little girl Emma relays the story of her baptism while she plays jacks (and her child’s view of the paradigms of religion are not only very funny, but also understandable). In another vignette, Crystal assumes the role of a Latina performing friend who reveals other dimensions of herself when the two begin living together. Later Crystal becomes her brother as he descends into the hell of drug addiction. Changing accents, body shape, rhythm of movement, and linguistic style, Crystal captivatingly inhabits the characters in her narratives.

And overall changes in rhythm and tone throughout the piece – often signaled by music or lighting, as well as the occasional dance as part of a story – help keep the viewer engaged. The serious and somber notes are countered by upbeat and even silly stories, and the fast-paced rushing around to pack is balanced by the intermittent slow recounting of dramatic events. Jamie Mann deserves mention for his excellent direction of this intimate dramedy. Any show that can make the audience laugh out loud and at other moments have us on the verge of tears is impressive. And as a white woman just a bit younger than Crystal who grew up in Memphis, I found her stories sometimes relatable and sometimes informative. We need to share more stories like this, to contribute to the much-needed healing across race and other lines that is currently gathering steam in Memphis.

Originally scheduled for Hattiloo Theatre the final weekend of February, the performances were cancelled due to the snow. Southwest Community College graciously offered their theatre space for the rescheduled play. A veteran of many Broadway musicals who currently dances, choreographs, and teaches, Emma Crystal is definitely one of the top talents in Memphis, and her entertaining and moving one-woman show deserves a wider audience – here’s hoping that I am somebody…else gets another run sometime soon.

*Throughout this review, I use ‘Crystal’ to designate the actress and ‘Emma’ to indicate her character, as a way to distinguish the two.
- Odessa Wordpress (http://odessatheblog.wordpress.com/2009/04/25/142/)


Still working on that hot first release.



What do you do when you reach crucial crossroads in life? See what happens when one woman is faced with homelessness, how she comically relives events – the drama of being baptized, being taught by a very racist Southern teacher, dealing with physical and drug abuse, rejection in the performing arts world and romping with a lushy Latina – to find the inspiration she needs to carry her through. Video available.