and now my hand is ready for my heart: intimate histories is a bio-play written and performed by Nicky Paraiso. The show’s dynamic staging comes from John Jesurun and features a strong ensemble of dancers. On stage are four chairs, a piano and two curtains used as projection screens. Beginning the story without context, we feel claustrophobic and offended, held captive by someone talking only of himself. Unable to escape the long winded life story of a relentlessly selfish figure we’ve never met. Thankfully, as more details accumulate, these irritations dissolve and we find ourselves astonished by Nicky’s enchanting story. An everyman-autobiography. A profound and touching historical document. An archetype of artist life in New York City. It’s an intimate journey, one performed at La Mama until April 7th, and it deserves to be seen. And celebrated.
Nicky Paraiso studied music at Oberlin and received his Masters in acting at NYU. A fixture of New York City’s experimental theatre community for over 40 years, and a full time waiter while in his 50’s, he’s created work alongside legendary theatre makers and now serves as a curator and program director at La Mama. He doesn’t have a Wikipedia page and he’s not a Broadway, film or tv star. I’d never heard of him and there’s a good chance you haven’t either. He’s experimental, relatively unknown and now he’s performing an autobiographical one man show.
The play opens to a sepia colored, post-war photograph. Projected upon a delicate white curtain, it features a young boy standing in the yard of a two story family home. Five bodies enter the playing space. One sits at a piano and begins to play classical music. His electric body expressing every note. Until he stops. Rising from the keys, he begins to speak. This man, we discover, is Nicky, enumerating early childhood details while dancers gently glide and float through space. A story and a dance. Two distinctly separate entities functioning simultaneously. Movement without context alongside description without context. Mr. Paraiso’s eyes fixate on the ground and not on us. Anxious, stumbling and perhaps a bit ill-prepared, he rushes through his story. Carrying on about himself and convinced no one will listen, this unsettling experience persists for about 20 minutes. During this exhausting period, we find ourselves more obligated to remember details than compelled to hear.
After we’ve been so tediously force-fed details and so inundated with backstory, around the time Nicky graduates from NYU, we’re surprised to discover a profound attachment to his story.
Nicky travels across time, incremental event stacked on incremental event. Through his childhood living room playing Beethoven. Past the dark, blue-lit hidden adult corners of spoken word romance in jazzy clubs. Loosely strung together fragmented existence. The projector beams a decade old recording. We’re a fly on the wall at a lively brunch where Nicky’s friends berate him for not standing up for himself. He sits tucked away in a corner, timid and smiling as they criticize his unstable love life. Later, we live through his parents’ death. Later still, through an inheritance irresponsibly managed. And then most central to his life, we witness the apparent impact from working alongside luminaries of American theater history such as Meredith Monk and Jeff Weiss.
We follow Nicky until we’re stopped. Frozen in space to observe a once-upon-a-time performance. A demonstration of a character formerly played. A dictator, performed without word. A dictator defined by movement and gesture, expressed from powerful sensation. Then back to the story. A dear friend is dying. He asks Nicky to sing at the funeral and we stop along the way to sit and listen. It’s filled with trauma and love and heartbreak and the void from loss. In these examples, we’re not told a story. We experience Nicky’s most precious moments of life through his artistic technique- the lasting impression from working alongside luminaries of American theatre history.
“Why are we up here?” The dancers ask. “I wanted us to make something together!” Nicky exclaims. They’re his friends. Because this play is about community. It’s an ode to life-long appreciation and participation and chased enlightenment. It’s community as an inspired collection of people maintaining up and down friendships over a vast period of time. Of unstable love and heartache and shattered dreams and taped up hopes. Of a community where you know everyone because you can point to them. And they point back at you. Your story isn’t yours, it’s shared. It’s everyman’s. Shared intimate histories connected through art. And this story, Nicky Paraiso’s story, is his. But it’s also ours. The everyartist.