by Richard Dodds
OMG! When Marga Gomez mentioned visiting Freedomland as a child, it was like hitting a speed bump while riding in a rumble seat. This was the first time in more than four decades that I have encountered another person who has acknowledged visiting the short-lived Disneyland knockoff built on swampy, mosquito-plagued landfill in the Bronx. My family visited Freedomland not once, but twice, at some points during its 1960 to 1964 existence.
Her memories of the place are much more vivid than mine; I can only specifically recall Casa Loca, a structure somehow tilted to throw off your sense of gravity, and the Plantation Fried Chicken Restaurant with its ceiling fans. Gomez remembers the Borden's Farm Exhibit, which had a special "boudoir" built for Elsie the Cow, and a Chicago fire recreation in which she was one of the lucky children chosen to help pump water from a horse-drawn fire truck. The disaster was repeated every 20 minutes.
Of course, admitting to these memories dates both Marga and me, but this kind of cultural carbon dating is central to the point of Not Getting Any Younger. Her latest solo show, now at the Marsh, is an enchanting stroll/lurch down a memory lane that loops to the future like a Mobius strip. The startling experience when you realize you are actually getting old is widely shared, and some mosey forth with more sanguinity than others. Gomez is one of the others.
Gomez would rather eat a piece of paper, literally, on which she has written her age than share it with a randomly selected member of the audience. Don't bother going to Wikipedia, she says, which has an incorrect birth year that she herself posted while stoned and added years rather than shaved as she had planned. Three incorrect tries at remembering her password have locked her out of lying in the right direction.
Gomez meanders in a savvy way to expose her fears of the numbers game, recalling how her own mother – also a performer – would not only lie significantly about her age, but would put on a performance of youthful abandon whether on a stage or among strangers. Gomez has been mining her fractured fairy tale of family life for years, and Not Getting Any Younger demonstrates that this mineshaft still contains precious ore.
Since Gomez is also a standup comic, she casually tosses off jokes and one-liners that nevertheless still hit on the main topics, which include a nostalgia for icons of her youth and a leery attitude toward age – not necessarily the specific digits enumerating her time so far as a sentient being, but the notion that the world won't recognize the young person that she knows is still just beneath the skin, even as she occasionally grouses like a geezer about the loss of such things as manners. "I want to be the world's oldest young person," she says wistfully.
This is Gomez's ninth solo show, of which I have seen five. Not Getting Any Younger may be my favorite thanks to any number of reasons, ranging from the friendly self-effacement, the sharp material that just skitters to the edge of pathos, and the killer energy that Gomez still brings to a performance.
And then there is the Freedomland connection. I imagine some audiences will think it's an invention that Gomez created for comic effect, but I have walked the streets of Freedomland. By the way, Gomez's mother didn't let her visit Elsie the Cow in her boudoir because she wanted to enter a Twist contest. Like Gomez, I want to somehow go back while still marching forward with a vague dignity.
Not Getting Any Younger will run at the Marsh through Oct. 23. Tickets are $15-$35. Call 282-3055 or go to www.themarsh.org.