As a writer, I know that every story stems from some sort of life experience. Whether it is a memoir or fiction, there is always a personal influence, no matter how minuscule it is. While watching last Friday’s play, “Bearing Our Soles,” I realized that few people can document their life experiences as vividly as Regina Louise. Not only does her play reveal these tremendous stories, but so does her persona. Just listening to her speak for half an hour was like listening to a preacher conducting a church sermon — full of passion and love for what she does and what she knows.
“Bearing Our Soles” has had an interesting journey. Based off her memoir, “Somebody’s Someone,” it was inspired by a moment when Louise shared her life story at a charity event. After she got off stage, the following presenter ripped up her speech and started telling her own life story. She then realized that all of our life stories are connected in their own way. “Our stories are relational,” she said in an interview. “They’re connected. Your stories are my stories.” And she talks about these stories by incorporating different pairs of shoes because, according to her, shoes speak louder than words. Louise has had many pairs of shoes in her life to guide her on her adventures. In fact, Louise’s first pair of shoes were two planks of wood attached by a belt that was used to beat her with — something that is illustrated in the playbill. Her story is told with such anguish and emotion that it’s amazing how strong of a woman Louise has become.
“Bearing Our Soles” is about 11-year-old Vivian Louise, who finds herself in a foster home in Austin, Texas. When she is left under the care of an extremely abusive foster home, she — as Louise put it — makes a pact with God to get out and find a mother who loves her. This play was written especially to bring awareness to Foster Kids Awareness month, which incidentally is this month. Having grown up in the foster system, Louise is a passionate advocate for bringing awareness to these children. “This crap happens every day and these kids don’t get any help,” she said. “It only takes one person to ground them and understand them.”
Before the play commenced, Rod Bacon, one of Louise’s colleagues, came on stage and gave information on the foster system so the audience could understand the play’s context. He recited statistics such as the fact that 20,000 foster children grow out of the foster system with no home, and over 70 percent of incarcerated people in California have a foster background. These disturbing numbers brought chills to my spine and made me realize how much I didn’t know about what these children have to go through.
The actual play was simple. There were no props or stage sets, or anything to that degree. There were only five actors dressed in all black, sitting at chairs reading from a stand, as if they were at a scene reading. Since there wasn’t anything distracting to look at, all you could do was listen to the words they said. The writing was extremely powerful, and with intense emotion to deliver them, there was never a dull moment.
Two different versions of Vivian were portrayed on stage: Gabby Kreszchuk was the child, and Angelina Aguilera was the adult. Not only were they amazing at both of their roles, but they had sparks igniting from all over the place due to the force of their emotions. Despite them being around the same age, they embodied their respective roles. Aguilera looked like an older version of Kreszchuk, which made the story even more believable. On their own, their acting didn’t even seem like acting at all; it felt like they had directly absorbed Louise’s personality. Both Kreszchuk and Aguilera gave off Louise’s vibrant attitude perfectly. But even though they both had that personality, they still acted within their roles — Kreszchuk never once left Vivian’s “child phase,” and whenever she spoke, I saw an innocent little girl just wanting to be loved. When they gave their separate monologues, their screaming and cursing at the people who wronged them came from somewhere else. “I’m a nobody’s child!” Aguilera screamed at the audience as tears ran down her face. In fact, I could have sworn I saw them both actually crying at one point.
The play consisted of many other different elements, such as poems written by MFA students and California poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, and other stories of people connected to Vivian. One of the most touching stories was the one of Miss Kerr — the mother who would come to love her. Brandi Douglas played this character with an angelic side to her to the point that, by the end, I wanted her as my mother. When they finally reunited at the end, one of Aguilera’s last lines — “It’s official. I’m a daughter.” — provided an unexpectedly happy ending that I truly loved. I never knew the end of Louise’s story, and I never believed in miracles, either, but seeing the conclusion of her story after 25 years makes me believe in the phrase, “Everything will be alright in the end.”
“Bearing Our Soles” was sad, raw and full of real situations that occur in the foster system. From cruel social workers, to moving through over thirty foster homes, Louise educates the audience about how hard of a life it is to live. Through great acting and tears from both the audience and actors, this play is something that I hope won’t be limited to just Riverside. I hope that it spreads to more areas so more people can be aware of not only Louise’s life, but how all people are connected through soles and, most importantly, their stories.