Sunday, July 25, 2010

Review - Alice and Elizabeth's One Woman Show (Midtown International Theatre Festival)

By Rebecca N. Robertson

One day, as she stands before the mirror, a voice in Alice's head tells her she's too old to wear her favorite pleated mini. Startled and confused, she does what any single, modern woman would do -- she calls her best friend to confirm that, yes, indeed, she has heard that voice, too! In Alice and Elizabeth's One Woman Show, two BFF's embark upon a project to explore and, hopefully, to reconcile with that moment in womanhood when one begins wondering just what it is she should and should not be doing, wearing, and feeling at her age.

Lights fade up on Alice, dressed in a gauzy batik dress, dancing to a life-celebrating song of the modern Indigo Girl variety. She quips that "it's not everyday that you see a middle-aged woman dancing on stage." I begin to worry: Have I dragged my unsuspecting boyfriend to one of those angry feminist one-woman shows peppered with self-conscious comedy and woman vs. society baiting? Being nearly of a certain age, I can probably relate to the sentiment, but must I really endure 70 minutes of that particular genre with a squirming companion at my side?

What unfolds, instead, is a brave and moving act of universally digestible storytelling born of an extraordinary friendship. Still searching the dwindling dating pool for your other half at 45? What if she's been there all along in the guise of your once roommate turned best friend of twenty-something years? And what if it takes the possible loss of said best friend to an agonizing fight with cancer to realize it?

In the telling of the story, Alice Barden skillfully portrays multiple characters, including her present and former selves. Without sparing her own pride, she describes in hindsight her naive first impressions of Elizabeth from first meeting to their inseparable party girls phase. We see awe and wonderment envelop her as she recalls their shared mourning of a beloved cat. We empathize with the simultaneous annoyance and unconditional love that can only coexist between two people so close.

Though ultimately effective as a device to create suspense, the story of Alice and Elizabeth is not told in a linear fashion and leaps to and fro through time, sometimes to its detriment. Changes in stage position and lighting are used to help suggest each setting, but it can be a struggle to keep up with where in the timeline each intermittent monologue takes place. However, these few rough spots in timing are smoothed over by the actress's ability to ever so gently disarm the audience with candid vulnerability.

This festival production of Alice and Elizabeth's One Woman Show could be an excellent start to a bigger dramatic project and, perhaps, a springboard for a feminist dialogue such as: with friends like these, who needs a marriage? As it is, it's a well told story that succeeded in making, at least, this woman of nearly a certain age, imagine aging gracefully a little differently.

Alice and Elizabeth's One Woman Show
Written by Alice Barden and Elizabeth Walker
Directed by Patsy DeDongo
Lighting Designer: Gilbert Pearto

Featuring: Alice Barden

Dorothy Strelsin Theatre
312 W. 36th St.

Friday, July 16th @ 8:00pm
Sunday, July 18th @ 5:30pm
Thursday, July 22nd @ 8:00pm
Saturday, July 24th @ 1:00pm
Sunday, July 25th @ 7:30pm

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