Blondie of Arabia
"I think the first thing that you might say to writer/performer Monica Hunken after she tells you that she rode her bike across three countries in the Middle East, where a woman on a bicycle can be considered indecent, is "Why would you do that?" followed by, "That's crazy." And you wouldn't be lying; it is crazy...and bold and maybe even a little arrogant, but at the same time it's an incredibly selfless act of protest that strikes out at repression and inequality. Not to mention it's brave as can be.
Her desert odyssey starts with a catering gig. But not just any catering gig—it's a royal gig...literally. She lands a job working the wedding of the Crown Prince of Qatar but she has bigger plans for after the wedding. She is going to be a "bicycle ambassador provocateur"! At first the plan was to bike across a huge chunk of the planet in what she calls her "ring around Iraq," but she quickly learns that just isn't going to happen. Her revised plan takes her across Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Along the way she is honked at and gawked at, ogled and honored, come on to and even proposed to. She is met with wonderful generosity and kindness as well as discrimination and harassment. The people she meets—a bookish Egyptian, an astonished Jordanian woman, the Bedouin Johnny Depp—all know one thing about Hunken: she is an extraordinary person.
It is not surprising that an incredible journey such as Hunken's would inspire a great show. She gives us a performance filled with all the flavor of the exotic scenes and character of the people. Hunken excels at detailed and vivid descriptions of everything she sees and smells and hears. She is funny and honest. Her writing has a nice balance of good travel writing and performance writing. She divides her story into three acts that build perfectly on each other. I really like the way the story unfolds. It is packed with danger and triumph and lots of memorable characters.
Hunken's character work is refined and nuanced. She has an excellent ear for accents. She introduces us to a lot people that have similar accents but she always manages to find a distinction in the lilt or tone or posture of each character. It was like I was meeting a new person every time. Her performance is absolutely fantastic. She exposes herself as vulnerable to both the kindness and the harassment and yet she never loses her enormous inner strength. She also doesn't shy away from answering tough questions that were really asked of her on her travels. She helped me to understand a little why she would want to ride her bike across three Middle Eastern countries. The show is supported by some solid direction from Laura Newman and an evocative light design courtesy of Jessica Lynn Hinkle and Evan True. The soundtrack is also great, even gets a few laughs, but I'm not sure who is responsible for that. I loved that we get to see some real pictures from the journey we just experienced at the very end. That's a nice button.
Blondie of Arabia has all the elements of what makes a monologue profound. It has as its base great inspiration from a real life experience; it has a provocative cause and then adds an extremely talented writer and performer on top of that. Hunken is a monologist to be watched. This is solo performance at its very best." -NYTheatre.com
“… A performance of passion and politics, humour and hope. Following the true story of Monica Hunken’s courageous voyage, unarmed and unafraid, across hostile territory presents us with a triumph of the soul…”
- Judith Malina, founder of The Living Theatre
“The life-confession form of monologue has had its day. People thought the heedless self-congratulation of 70's performance art strangled it forever. But then a Ruth Draper or Richard Pryor or Spalding Gray comes along and makes the pretensions of talking about your own life for an hour beside the point because the audience doesn't notice time is passing. I had such a sensation with Monica Hunken's "Blondie of Arabia," a monologue with acted characters, dance gestures and a bicycle, which explores the being-and-nothingness on the shoulders of middle-eastern roads with names like "Snake Highway." Hunken is a six foot blonde woman who looks like monstrous Barbie to the people native to the Islamic regions where she bikes, a cultural free-fall into loneliness and danger and vivid awkward love. This is a reconstruction of relationship with people that Americans either buy or war with. That's not the point, though, and if it were we would be back at the moralizing monologue. "Blondie of Arabia" is a double-taking project that sheers away most of the commons sense the audience might have had walking into the theater. Story-telling comes back to life as the life we witness is always almost ending, and must convincingly survive.”
- Rev Billy Talen, The Church of Stop Shopping
The Wild Finish
" The Wild Finish is one of the most exciting theater pieces I've seen in years. An adventure story, a character festival, a mystery and an acrobatic comedy all at the same time. In this one-woman travelogue, Monica Hunken uses her transformative physical acting to carry her audiences from Los Angeles to Poland, introducing us to characters and situations only Monica would dare to face. If you want to know where theater can take you, get on Monica's bike."
- Stephen Wangh (author of An Acrobat of the Heart)
Arts Professor (ret), NYU Adjunct Faculty, Naropa University
"Monica Hunken, one of the eminent actresses of our time, has created a play about her grandfather that is both autobiographical and innovative. An extraordinary artist, she is able to use her body and her voice - in fact several voices - to expand the theatrical vocabulary so that the spectator rides the myriad aspects of an extraordinary life - "The Wild Finish", through the phsyical and spiritual rigor of one multi-faceted actress."
-Judith Malina, Founder of The Living Theatre
Reading The Water
"Monica Hunken's Reading the Water, was a real joy. Hunken, the show's writer-perfomer, yearns for a greater understanding of her father. He died when she was an infant and, she says, the things she knows about him she can count on her fingers. Hunken's father, Rick, was working in a research laboratory and developed cancer at an early age from, the family suspects, the recirculating air conditioning system at the lab. And, as Hunken finds herself traveling to California to act in a Shakespeare Festival, she decides to delve into her father's past and try to flesh out her idea of a man she doesn't remember. She does this by taking video footage of co-workers of her father's and touring the facility where he worked. On stage, she performs the roles of the different characters she has interviewed and tells a story that never really answers any questions but does succeed in mending Hunken's link to a severed family history. Her journey is colored by strong movement and clear directing by Laura Newman, who is also credited as Hunken's collaborator, and it is hard not to like Hunken's performance as she looks like she's having so much fun on stage. Reading the Water is touching and interesting and very successful in stirring our feelings as, by the end, we feel like we know this man as much now as his daughter does. I look forward to the future of this play, as continued sharpening of its occasionally unwieldy narrative will only make it more effective.”