I’d heard so many great things about Melody A. Johnson’s one-woman show Miss Caledonia that my expectations were sky-high. There’s something just so incredibly charming about a woman who grows up and ends up spending much of her writing and performing career paying tribute to her country-girl mother and the much-smaller dreams that led to her own success a generation later. It’s a nice story- that of Johnson’s mother Peg’s time splitting her attention between beauty pageants and the farm- but it’s just not as interesting as I wanted it to be.
Johnson is a splendid performer and a strong writer but her story is a little too nice. There’s too much reverence in the writing, not enough distance from its subject in order for Johnson to be able to play with her characters, make more jokes, stretch the truth into a narrative with more conflict to help fill the full one act. Her play is a tribute to her mom; she’s literally playing her mom. And her mom is the reason she is where she is. Of course the writing soft-shoes around any hint of discontent and the performance stays firmly on the safe side of funny- no one, at least no one who would make a one woman show in tribute to their mother, wants to upset their mom. I wouldn’t. But that’s why you don’t publish Long Day’s Journey Into Night until after your own death let alone your mom’s death, because if you’re going to write about your family you have to hit the dark side too, because it’s almost always there.