note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi
The young women of today, encouraged to pursue their dreams, will have a different past to look back on compared to those of my generation who were caught in the crosswinds of conservatism and the breaking of moulds (to be or not to be like their housewife-mothers…that was the question); after attending DRESSED UP! & WIGGED OUT! at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, I gather that boomer-women are still torn between viewing their mothers’ lives as unfulfilled ones yet feeling, deep down, that they did not turn out the way their mothers wanted them to be --- I was not surprised that its audience was composed mainly of middle-aged and senior women coming to see two mature actresses take stock of their lives, still feeling the pull of their late mothers’ apron strings and using authentic clothing and mementoes as costumes and props. Rather than being morbid or obsessive, DRESSED UP! & WIGGED OUT! is an amusing --- at times, hilarious --- and moving evening of “Who Am I?” and “Who Was She?”
In Leslie Dillen’s “Dressed Up!”, Ms. Dillen’s grown daughter demands to know her mother’s philosophy of life --- Ms. Dillen, who admits to using the ballet character Giselle as her personal guide to adulthood, never received her own mother’s philosophy but finds one in the transforming power of clothes. Ms. Dillen does an uncanny impersonation of Diane Keaton en route to self-revelation and when she slips into a WWII Red Cross uniform or a New Look cocktail number complete with jeweled skullcap, this former tomboy from Oklahoma is, indeed, transformed. Ms. Dillen’s solo is jazzy and spontaneous; Paula Plum’s “Wigged Out!”, about life and death with her silly, haughty mother Rowena, is deeper and more satisfying. Ms. Plum charts an unchronological timeline of an impossible woman who shied away from human contact and believed that appearance was all and she includes a tender cameo of her life-loving father, a stunning entrance by Rowena’s wedding gown and Ms. Plum’s own performance as herself. I tend to catch Ms. Plum in her drawingroom-mode more often than not --- even her Queen Margaret in the recent RICHARD III flounced in from Mayfair, cocktail in hand --- but here she plays warmly from a forgiving heart, balancing laughter and tears even in death’s shadow. Ms. Plum’s tribute, complete with warts, could only be written after Rowena passed on: the daughter needed both death and distance to turn her mother into Art.
Susan Zeeman Rogers has designed the dollhouse-like setting, complete with hatboxes --- remember hatboxes? --- and Karen MacDonald has directed Mss. Dillen and Plum unobtrusively which is no small achievement considering she is a mainstay at A.R.T. where bad things happen to good people. I was told that the photos on display just outside the theatre door come from the actresses’ family albums --- aside from Ms. Plum sporting a garish hat, onstage, that must be seen to be believed, you will admit that women knew how to dress in the Bad Old Days.