Best Performance in a Variety Show (2012)

Kelly Tobin

Kelly Tobin's appearance in Vox Phamalia: Quadrapalooza made you question the essential meaning of art, and the line between acting and simply existing — with revelatory truthfulness — on a stage. As part of this series of skits and songs about disability, Tobin stood on stage to tell you about hers. She had a lovely, spunky, warm presence, but you could see that talking about her life was hard; at one point she forgot what she was saying for a few moments, because in addition to truncated limbs, she has suffered a traumatic brain injury. But she told a wonderful story about deciding to save a doomed foot in formaldehyde after amputation — complete with the three toenails she and her two daughters had defiantly painted in different colors — and keeping it under the bed. You could have clustered her account with those crazy-inspirational stories about women who tattoo the spaces left on their chests after a mastectomy, or show up for chemo in sassy, sky-high heels, but her performance wasn't show-offy that way. It didn't make you think that Tobin was braver than anyone else, or funnier, or more colorful. You didn't say to yourself, "Oh, isn't she wonderful? Look at how she can laugh despite all she's been through." Though her warm, melodious voice never faltered, she made it clear that nail polish doesn't begin to assuage the shock and sadness of amputation. What she gave us in the end was life straightforward and unadorned, and the understanding that hers was the human condition — just as surely as your own.


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