You might even be able to laugh at yourself. Victoria Roberts, the New Yorker cartoonist, knows how the charge of a private laugh shared with another woman can make a hundred mental fireflies light up on a stage. The abracadabra of connection comes when that person below the proscenium arch says what you yourself have been thinking—as if you're both in the same cartoon bubble. Victoria understands the pressure point in a situation where you feel as if you're living in a cartoon. Born in New York but raised in Mexico and Australia, Victoria has been seeing her life in one-liners since she was a teenager. Cartoons stretch reality, and that's what she does on the pages of The New Yorker and in her books, but on the stage she actually stretches herself—literally—by gluing on an outrageous henna wig to become octogenarian Nona, a character she began drawing in art school in Sydney, Australia. Victoria had been moonlighting as a nurse's aide on weekends at a nursing home. The residents inspired her—particularly a confident, crusty dame named Queenie. Soon Victoria began drawing a portly naked lady sporting an enormous necklace—and called her Nona.

The only problem was that she was never able to make this nude oldster into a cartoon-strip character. It was hard to write clever captions for Nona, who was more a life force, a philosophy, than a source of one-liners. For years Victoria used the character in uncaptioned artwork, hearing a daffy, old-fashioned voice in her head as she drew. "Nona lived through the Depression and had a knowledge of how bad things could be, but also an optimism," Victoria told me. "She became concentrated, like frozen orange juice."

How do you get a quality of concentrated orange juice into a cartoon character whose quintessentially Australian accent you can hear so well inside you that you can imitate it on a dime? That's where the one-woman show comes in. Victoria has always wanted to make her cartoon character a living reality, and in her show Nona is as large as life. The thrill for Victoria is that her tiny line drawing, originally a product of her mind, becomes one with her body. First she envisioned Nona. Now through the character of Nona, Victoria makes herself visible. Yet for us in her audience, she will become a lens through which we can see ourselves—and be amused.


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