Familial relationships are a shaping force in everyone’s lives — bonds with parents, especially, are vastly instrumental in the development of a child’s personality. In her upcoming one-woman show at Buttonwood Winery, Polly Frost, the Santa Barbara native (she graduated from San Marcos High) and current New York City–based writer and performer, explores a most potent familial dynamic: that between a father and daughter. We Only Get One Father — So Why Was I Given Mine? is an honest look at her relationship with a father who, as she described, “valued his public image over his children, and had a tragic weakness for flattery.” Frost compares their dynamic to that of Cordelia and Lear: “My father liked to run his family as though it was a court, with endless power games that he fostered between relatives,” she said. “I had to fight against him my entire life — even as an adult — just to be my own person.”
Frost is a vivacious, sophisticated artist with a long career in writing and journalism. Particularly interested in audience connection and the ephemerality of stories told in the oral tradition, Frost performs all over the country but never allows her shows to be recorded. Her work emulates the style of a wandering minstrel — each show is unique and shaped by the atmosphere of the venue. Her enthusiasm and creative energy sustains the humorous undercurrent that runs through her shows about the serious topic of dysfunctional family dynamics. Frost said her performance “combines humor with observations about life that are philosophical, sociological, and spiritual.” The challenges of the past, especially once overcome, can be remembered in a fonder light, and Frost gives both a frank examination of her own relationship with her father and an exploration of the father/daughter rapport, in general.
A principal theme of Frost’s show is the determination to live an authentic life. Frost, who pushed for years against a disapproving patriarch to be accepted, is thankful for the tenacity this challenging relationship provided her. She admitted that having a more encouraging father might not have offered her the opportunity to shape the strength of character she developed in response to his behavior. “There are women who have adoring, steady fathers,” she said, “and then there are women — like me — who have endlessly rejecting fathers who make impossible demands. In the show, I ask which kind of father is ultimately best. Does a doting dad really produce a more resilient daughter? Or does a difficult father produce a stronger adult woman?” We Only Get One Father is not only a provocative and entertaining story of a woman’s struggle with an overbearing, disapproving parent but also a parable about the significance of cultivating the strength to exist authentically, regardless of the hurdles in your path — even in the difficult case when those obstacles are family members.
A notable aspect of Frost’s shows is her belief in the importance of emotional distance between performer and subject matter. For a performance to convey a meaningful concept, the actors must have the ability to access and utilize appropriate emotions, yet a player who is too close to the material runs the risk of turning a performance into a therapy session — an uncomfortable event for the audience. Though Frost wrote this show after her father’s death earlier this year, she confirmed that she’s processed the accompanying emotions and reached a point of creative expression rather than the need to air lingering resentments. She appreciates that developing this show has allowed her to explore her father from a different angle. “When I perform the dialogues between my father and me,” she said, “I get to play him as well as myself, which has given me a greater understanding of him. In writing this show, I wanted to take my difficult relationship with my dad and turn it into something positive. That’s the gift of creativity: You get to take something negative and turn it into something positive through making art.”
Polly Frost will perform We Only Get One Father — So Why Was I Given Mine? on Sunday, January 10, 3 p.m., at Buttonwood Winery, 1500 Alamo Pintado Road, Solvang. Admission is $15. Refreshments and snacks are included, and wine will be available for purchase. For reservations, call (646) 358-6684 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.