“Naturally Tan” theater review
Written and performed by Tanya Thomas
Developed and directed by Jessica Lynn Johnson
Whitefire Theatre Solofest
Growing up ashamed is not a unique story. But Tanya Thomas’s experiences in Singapore as a child, dark, exotic and voluptuous, in a sea of white Asian skin and straight hair, was to Tanya the trifecta of handicaps, at least through the lens of her own existence.
“Naturally Tan” is a beautifully written solo show that takes us on a journey through a world none of us are familiar with. Tanya is from an Indian family who moved to Singapore when she was a child. She developed really early, blossoming at eight years old, and sprouting boobs and curves that were so different from the slight figures and light skin of the Singapore society. Is it any wonder that she hid herself away, bound her breasts, lightened her skin and straighten her curls.
Her story is cunningly told through the narration of her friend Tanvi, a rather wonderful Singapore drag queen.
As a curvy bodied, curly haired, dark-eyed English girl, who always looked different from her blue-eyed, blond, pink-skinned fellow Brits, I can totally identify with her struggle to love herself. It took her many years and the birth of her beautiful, mixed-race daughter to realize her own original beauty. I have a daughter with hair wilder than myself, who also struggled to fit in. Too dark for England, too white for L.A. schools. She has found herself far sooner than I ever did and I am so proud of her for that. She’s a warrior. Soon she will be having a baby girl of her own, and the fierceness she owns will be born again.
Tanya’s journey may not be immediately familiar to us on the surface. Set in Singapore, with Indian and Asian themes, but what woman has not compared herself unfavorably to those around her?
What woman has not tweaked and pinched and colored and forced herself into preconceived notions of beauty or sameness? It’s a strange thing to be sure that our lives are predetermined by society or religion or weird old and, in some cases, ancient concepts of caste, color and class. But that’s the world we are all trying to change.
“Naturally Tan” is so relevant. It’s funny and entertaining, but also very deep, authentic and real.
Tanya is a beautiful, talented and confident woman, one who we might not imagine could ever be unsure, or awkward or ashamed of any part of herself. But of course, what we can see of those we meet is only what they allow us to. So all that angst is kept close to her heart, under as many layers of her life as there were baggy t-shirts in her wardrobe to hide herself beneath.
This theater reviewer for one would be thrilled to meet Tanya, all of her – bounteous, strong, beautiful, brown and sometimes curly. I’m so happy that she feels the importance of acknowledging her own ancient lineage, her own well-earned, gorgeous, brown skin, and dark hair and dark eyes.
If any color is the color of our time, our place in history, our world and our revolution, it is her gorgeous glowing natural tan.
Executive Producer: Bryan Rasmussen
Lighting Designer: Derrick McDaniel
Mohiniyattam Choreography: Vijayalakshmi
Graphic Designer: Serina Morris
Illustrator: Jo Allen Situ
Illustrator: Tori Constantine
Producer: Nancy Santiago
Qlab Designer: Brandon Loeser
Video Designer: Kenny Johnston
Music Arranger: Bobby Wilkerson
Copywriter: Eileen Rosete
Photographer: Cameron Jordan