The world premiere of “Joy Rebel” — a one-woman show written and performed by Khanisha Foster — came to a close this weekend after ten performances over the past week and a half. The play is a powerful exploration of identity, cultural appropriation, code switching and all of the unique challenges that Foster has faced as a biracial actress.
As a person of mixed race heritage myself, I found the autobiographical play both relatable and illuminating. Beginning with a memory she had of her father from when she was a kid, “Joy Rebel” consisted of various snapshots from Foster’s life that best encapsulated her journey to reclaim her own identity in a world all too willing to create one for her. From her beginnings as an actress who had to pretend she was Latina because her casting agent did not see her as “black enough” to a cab driver telling Foster her true race “doesn’t matter anyway, you are what people see you as,” Foster delivered a stellar performance that was simultaneously powerful and vulnerable and which spanned the full dynamic range of human emotion.
In one moment, tears stream down her cheeks as she recounts her miscarriage, and the next she is all smiles as she sets the scene for the next act. Considering how personal the material was, it is a true testament to Foster’s acting abilities that she was able to remain so controlled throughout the performance.
Foster’s performance and writing also came together to cover serious, sometimes tragic, human experience without becoming too heavy-handed or depressing. For how real things got, “Joy Rebel” was at most times fun and comedic, which ties into the name of the show and the central theme. Growing up a child of addicts, biracial in racist America, Khanisha Foster chose to rebel not by succumbing to vice or hatred but by being a force of radical joyousness.
“Joy Rebel” premiered at the Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul as part of the Claude Edison Purdy Festival. The Penumbra — Minnesota’s only professional African American theatre and a part of the Twin Cities Theatres of Color Coalition — is dedicated to presenting artistically excellent productions that depict emotional, relevant and valuable experiences from an African American perspective. With “Joy Rebel,” the Penumbra and Khanisha Foster succeeded in delivering on all fronts. Especially in the U.S., where biracial identity is often erased and ignored — How many people describe Obama as the first biracial president instead of the first black president? — allowing a mixed race woman to tell her story is quite remarkable.
This article first appeared in the Friday, February 23, 2018, Edition of The Echo.