Now in its 15th season off Broadway at SoHo Playhouse, the International Fringe Encore Series, this year running from November 25, 2022-January 8, 2023, is curated to bring the “Best of the Fests” from around the globe to NYC. It most definitely has done that with Japanese-born artist Teruko Nakajima and her solo show Made in America, which won multiple awards in the 2022 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Well, it’s not exactly a solo show; she is joined on stage by her dog Titi, and they’re equally irresistible.
Directed by John Flynn, the candid autobiographical monologue is performed in lively direct address by the adorable Teruko, who recounts in her sweet, soft, high-pitched voice the inconceivable struggles she faced since her traumatic childhood in Tokyo and her relocation to the US, first to New York and then to LA, as soon as she was old enough to leave, in an endearing performance characterized by an uplifting sense of humor and a triumphant spirit that elicits both ebullient laughter and heartfelt sympathy.
Beginning with the domestic violence her parents wreaked on one another, the emotional and physical abuse her beloved alcoholic mother inflicted on her, and the sexual assaults she was subjected to by strangers from the tender age of six, the charming and engaging artist relays the damage done to her mental health and emotional well-being, as she was convinced by her mother that she’s to blame, she brought it all on herself, and she doesn’t deserve to be happy. No she’s not, no she didn’t, and yes, she does! And that goes for everyone who has suffered at the hands of others.
Fortunately for all of us who have the pleasure of seeing this optimistic life-affirming show, she didn’t give up on herself, even though her move to America brought more challenges, including financial hardship, survival jobs as a Dominatrix, a salsa dancer, and a nightclub madame, more incidents of sexual abuse, auditions and rejections that resulted in a bout with bulimia, and a three-year marriage to a man who was required to be single, in order to receive free treatment for a life-threatening illness – all of which culminated in a failed suicide attempt and a 911 call that kept her alive and got her the help she so desperately needed.
There are moments when her face, demeanor, and subdued vocalization reflect the troubles and sadness that haunted her, but she mostly relays her experiences with a winning smile and an inspiring attitude, exuding the elation of triumphing over her past and the pleasure that came with learning to love herself through the support of friends in the arts community and the doctors who treated, encouraged, and urged her to adopt the little dog she rescued, who likewise rescued her. Their mutual devotion, love, and bonding radiated throughout the house and brought tears of joy to everyone’s eyes (to the point that my eyeliner was running down my face!). She also exuberantly professed her forgiveness of everyone who hurt her, acknowledging that she doesn’t know what pain they’ve endured that would have led them to such destructive behavior, and her heartfelt gratitude and pride in becoming an American citizen, being a part of the country that she credits with saving her life, and being able to embrace the ideals of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Teruko’s irrepressibly effervescent and affecting performance is enhanced with the red fringe dress, shoes, and heart-shaped glasses she wears, voiceovers of the other referenced figures in her journey to self-acceptance and joyousness, segments of the skilled energetic dance she studied and professionally mastered, projections of vintage photographs of her younger self, and recordings of such apropos upbeat songs as “Here Comes the Bride,” patriotic American anthems, and Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” The self-described “walking miracle” Teruko and her mini-me Titi will undoubtedly win your heart, as they did mine. It’s a show that should not be missed if you want to feel happy!
Running Time: Approximately 50 minutes, without intermission.