Holding an audience’s attention for two hours is a daunting task. Maintaining viewers focus and sparking fits of laughter every few minutes while solo is even more of a challenge. Joy Vandervort-Cobb tackles the feat like an old pro. She performs with such ease it makes you wonder if she takes Shakespeare seriously when he said the whole world’s a stage, and then contemplate what she’d be like after a few cocktails.
Moments of Joy is a solo, autobiographical work written and performed by Vandervort-Cobb, a College of Charleston theater professor. Unlike many autobiographies, Vandervort-Cobb didn’t have a troubled childhood — save for that missing baby book and her nana, who was a little heavy handed with the vodka. In fact, besides her huge personality and comedic humor, her life has had none of the outrageous aspects found in typical female biographies: daddy issues, drug addictions, or eating disorders (unless you consider her whole-hearted love for food a disorder). But the show is seriously entertaining without that drama, because she is.
Vandervort-Cobb’s issues are relatable. The crazy aunt who can’t remember your name, the permanently buzzed grandparent, the cheating lover. And who hasn’t been angry with their spouse and dreamt of utilizing that Taser? Each scene is a riot, as Vandervort-Cobb delivers with perfection and a sincere honesty. She even worked in a bit of improv, telling a man in the audience that it was OK for black people to see psychiatrists and a referral to hers because he hadn’t smiled through the performance. Pianist and director Maida Libkin could barely control her giggles even as the show continued.
The first act begins backstage as Vandervort-Cobb prepares for a one-woman show that friends have lured her into performing. As she gets ready and attempts to calm her nerves, her three muses finally appear before curtain call. The muses are the spirits of her deceased mother, grandmother, and aunt — a crazy lot, to say the least. The three prep her as any family would, telling her to leave out the bad parts about themselves and worrying that her cleavage may be too distracting. Vandervort-Cobb jumps back and forth between the characters seamlessly, distinguishing each with her own telltale voice. You can almost visualize the grandmother, drink permanently in hand and voice a little scratchy from years of cigarettes. Vandervort-Cobb eventually makes her way to the stage, where she sings Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman,” and then moves into the highlights of the story of her life.
Vandervort-Cobb takes the audience through her adult years, beginning when her parents naively let her attend University of Southern Cal (the real USC she snarkily pointed out) at the tender age of 16. We learned about her early career in theater, her refusal to work a job that was “beneath her,” and her belief that she was destined to be a gypsy due to her love for being on the road. Eventually though, we learn of her husband and how she landed in Charleston. Some of the funnier moments come as she impersonates the old white men at the college, though she is careful to not completely bite off the hand that feeds her.
Vandervort-Cobb also spends a good amount of time discussing her children and the difficulty of raising them. Somehow it’s funny hearing her say, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,” unlike when your mom used the same threat.
In the second act, more is revealed about her husband’s infidelities and their strained separation. Vandervort-Cobb shows a bit more vulnerability as she discusses the challenge of forgiving and the long road of reconstructing a marriage. The story evolves into a tale of a confident woman, who finally comes into her own and is able to relax and enjoy the good parts of her life. Vandervort-Cobb proves that it helps though to have good friends with whom you can have a cocktail and share a laugh about it all.
Stelle Di Domani Series: Moments of Joy. $21/ $19 students/seniors. May 31, 8:30 p.m., June 1, 8 p.m. Theatre 220. Simons Center for the Arts. 54 St. Philip St. (843) 724-7592