And it’s not just her black skinny jeans, although she does spend the first minute or so of her one-woman show, Mija: one bitch’s tale, in her underwear, hunting for them around the stage. Once she pulls the pants on, though, she sits down in an armchair, addresses the audience as her therapist, and tells us what she’s really looking for: A mother. And more importantly, herself.
Gallagher, folkLAB’s second miniMythologies resident, has spent the past three weeks constructing Mija with director Ayne Terceira. The 90-minute monologue is personal, funny, and often surprising as Gallagher examines her childhood and the many identities she’s come to possess. She’s queer; she’s Latinx; she’s been a labor activist. Most of all, Gallagher says, she’s a bitch.
“I really love the word ‘bitch,’” she says. “‘Bitch’ is like my fucking pronoun.”
Mija is staged at The Terminal Building on East Carson Street in an intimate performance space decorated with tapestries, rugs, and houseplants that evoke Gallagher’s apartment or bedroom. The strong smell of incense fills the room. Scattered around are a set of cardboard boxes labeled with a name or phrase. From these, Gallagher pulls the props and costume pieces that she uses throughout the show to transform into figures from her life: her alcoholic mother, her schizophrenic uncle, her long-term ex-lovers.
The show’s lighting helps it land the frequent mood switches from light to serious and back again. Sometimes the lights on Gallagher are a somber dark blue or a sickly, discomfiting yellow. Other times, when she’s addressing us as her therapist, they’re a frank white.
Abigail Lis-Perlis, who founded folkLAB, writes in her introduction to the piece, “I created folkLAB to make new work with artists who are typically overlooked and under-represented on Pittsburgh stages, and I can tell you right now: There isn’t anyone out there like Nicole.”
And yes, Gallagher’s story is unique, but her quest is the always-relatable one for love and companionship. She feels like the baby bird from the picture book Are You My Mother, she tells us, always trying to find someone to be her guardian. The bitch inside Gallagher can take care of herself. But “bitch,” like all identities, is complicated and messy. So is Gallagher’s show — which is what makes it stay with you afterward.