note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Larry Stark
Did you see "The Gibson Girl"?
If you did, please do me a favor: first read this review, written by Kilian Melloy, in the 17 March edition of THE EDGE.
Then, simply send me a note (firstname.lastname@example.org) and tell me: does Melloy's review describe the show YOU saw?
I need your help, because I cannot answer Yes to that question. And I'm not sure why.
And let me caution you: if you plan to see the show, wait to read MY review until you do. I will be stomping all over lots of surprises in order to explain myself, and you shouldn't know about any of them before you see the show. Okay?
Now let me try to remember stuff about a show I left thinking I had no intention of reviewing. I was bewildered, puzzled, confused and unsettled by it all. I felt I'd been dealt a stack o cards, not all of them from even the same game. Each card was exquisite; the hand as a whole though I found unplayable, because nothing fit together.
Here, let me try to remember what I at least THINK I saw:
"Ruth has two daughters, sororal twins..." says the critic, but I disagree. People tell her more than once that One of these girls is one day going to remember who she is, remember a different family.
Again the critic "However, the scent of the cedar cannot restore to Nia something long-lost... " Right. What she lost was a Child. The fact that she has been waiting, aimlessly (for Twelve Years!) for the kid to knock on the door and say "Sorry, I'm back now."
And though the writer makes no hint of which "sororal twin" might be which, I think one is that snatched changeling.
I could be wrong. I'm obviously wrong in expecting some sort of logical structure here, so maybe I'm imposing something of my own devising.
Again the critic insists: "The script doesn’t explain everything, tie everything up, or develop every nuance. "
That is certainly true. Many of these characters never run into one another, and some look as though they're there merely because, well, they're There. There are, for instance, two ragingly horny satires: a pomposity-impaired lecturer on the state of African-American women, and a wacko voyeur equally verbose about steatopygous stereotypes. They're funny, but irrelevent.
Then there are Ladell (the lonely mother's brother) and Thelma (the twins' mom's sister), who meddle --- or try to meddle. They're there mostly to Almost say the sooth about that missing child, and to bug everyone they come in contact with. If though, as the critic has it, "Ladell and Thelma are the crux upon which the deeply human mysteries of the play turn" they managed to keep all that a deep dark mystery from Me.
In a sense, "... director Victoria Marsh lets the whole production grow emotionally lush." but it does so because she's allowed Kristen Greenidge unlimited self-indulgence while never asking "but what does that very interesting new detail add to The PLAY?" I think the audience deserves a comprehensible through-line to cling to through all the asides and gyrations and loop-de-loops the author thinks are fun.
That said, I must say this experienced cast is a joy to watch, making People out of bundles of tour-de-force writing that often just Happen to show up in the same play. Each individual here --- even Heather Fry, with rings on her toes and Barbados soaking every syllable, pretending a tarot/palm reading --- IS fun. But I expected a play, not an anthology.
I think, though, that though everybody loves the two outlandishly fantastic "twins" --- perhaps if they Are taking classes in theater, someone should by now have told them what the phrase "point-up your lines!" means. Greenidge's lines carry them, but I found them not acting but merely posing.
Oh, and one final note --- this about the title:
" The Gibson Girl was a feminine idea from the opening years of the 20th century. She was a fantastical;, and phantasmagorical, combination of beauty, competence, elegance, and strength, an impossible standard by which crazed bachelors measured their ideal mates. (Which might explain why they were bachelors.) Greenidge looks back at that oddity with the understanding that the Gibson Girl has never really left us: she’s with us still, in a variety of colors and ethnicities, even a variety of genders. Ruth telling her psychic that "Nubian Queens" don’t do their own floors (and certainly don’t smell of Murphy’s Oil soap!) speaks to entire sections of libraries devoted to the subjects of race, gender, and class. "
The critic may have found that footnote in the press-packet, or pasted on the wall above the water-fountain outside the theatre. The idea obviously means something to Greenidge, but not a thing to me. And as I noted when discussing the excecrable "Julius Caesar" across the river, a play shouldn't need footnotes to be comprehensible to its audience.
If you see, or have seen this show, PLEASE Tell Me what YOU think happens in it.
I don't like talking so much about things I don't think I understand, and though I really like the scintillating surfaces of this show, I need help figuring out exactly what was there.
( a k a larry stark )