note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Susan Daniels
Two of Boston’s best known actresses -- Leslie Dillen and Paula Plum -- join forces in “Dressed Up! Wigged Out!” to create an evening of two distinct, one act plays about their respective lives and the key figures who people them, particularly their mothers. Intimately personal, the grand sagas and little details relay milestone scenarios, both major and minor, from the lives of each woman in a production that revels in the specific, yet connects to the universal.
In “Dressed Up!,” the first act, Dillen questions her philosophy of life, sparked by her grown daughter’s inquiries. Delving into the minutia as well as the monumental moments of motherhood, Dillen explores the salient episodes of her life, all rooted in her associations with clothes, which she adores and lives/loves to acquire.
Incorporating the persona of each article of clothing or accessory -- and throughout the 50 minute monologue there are many selections -- into her life, Dillen rummages through her closet and drawers seeking answers from the past and a clearer understanding of the present regarding her relationships with her parents, husbands, and daughter. A childhood tutu transforms Dillen into her adolescent alter-ego, the exquisite ballerina, Giselle; pink cowboy boots help to break the ice in a conversation with Sam Shephard; her mother’s chic cocktail dress from the 1950s serves as a reminder of that bygone Eisenhower era of elegance and respectability; the Red Cross uniform recalls buttoned up memories of her parents romance during World War II; and the turquoise jewelry, a connection to her Native American heritage, delivers the power and instinct for Dillen to scare off a poisonous snake.
All these incarnations -- significant passages during her Oklahoma adolescence, New York young womanhood, and middle aged years -- travel a nonlinear pattern, which occasionally grow a tad tedious and tenuous. But Dillen, an award winning playwright actress and solo performer, is an engaging performer whose expressive face and mobile movements are like a colorful silk scarf decoratively tossed over a shoulder.
In “Wigged Out!,” the more potent, smoothly scripted, and seamlessly acted portion of the two, Plum shares the final months of her widowed mother, Rowena, who succumbs to cancer in her 80s, while still maintaining her Queen Bee status. Easily transitioning between past and present, Plum enhances the poignancy of the material by adding snippets of her relationship with her father as well.
Speaking as though she’s sitting across from you in the kitchen, the conversational scenarios mine these memories, primarily stirred up by her mother’s wigs, various accessories, and a couple of special dress, along with her father’s black, heavy-framed eye glasses and plaid shirt. With humor and pathos aplenty, Plum is in her element -- reaching for the stars while staying grounded in the familiar. Though both acts compliment each other thematically -- and that in itself heightens the enjoyment of the production, “Wigged Out!” could easily be enjoyed as a full evening of theater, if Plum chose to develop the material even more.
Directed by Karen MacDonald, one of American Repertory Theatre’s founding members and friend to both actresses, both plays maintain an individual style and rhythm, augmented by a cohesive creative staff: scenic designer Susan Zeeman Rogers, lighting designer Karen Perlow, sound designer David Remedios, and costume design by Anna-Alisa Belous. Though Dressed Up! Wigged Out! is written, performed, and directed by women with the biggest hunk of material about women, it is a show, nevertheless, that can be enjoyed by both genders. Frankly, anyone who has had a mother can relate.
“Dressed Up! Wigged Out!,” through 21/17;
Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, Boston. For tickets, call 617.