BETTER THAN OKAY
I laughed pretty much continuously throughout the unimpressively titled Raised by Gays and Turned Out OK!, which surprised me since the narrative I’ve constructed for myself says I don’t like women’s identity issue monologues. For my sins, I was assigned two to review last night, and I thoroughly enjoyed this one. This would be a much easier review to write if I hadn’t, if I could just rehash the Politics of Identity Is Stifling American Discourse rants I’ve been spieling for years. Now, I am far from the only liberal to think that the Safety-Trumps-Truth mentality is in fact killing intellectual progress, but Elizabeth Collins isn’t killing anything except IT, as in “she killed last night,” and it is she about whom I am tasked to write. So:
Collins grew up moving house a lot, mostly around the American south, because her toy store-manager dad kept getting promoted. Also because her dad was queer. Her mom’s sexuality also seems like it might be a little abnormative, though it never manifests as such and is primarily used as a sight-gag through well-employed family snapshots. The story is Collins’ and her dad’s, though, and follows their relationship through decades of changes: his coming out and shacking up; her adolescence and need of a mother figure; the divorce; her coming to terms with his homosexuality in 1990s Texas; his disenchantment with her art-school party-girl young ladyhood, and his rapprochement with her 7-days-a-week church-girl incarnation.
It doesn’t end there – those are just a few points on a pleasant and occasionally surprising arc of parent and child in an enduring struggle for empathy. And, again, it’s extremely funny. Collins writes of family drama with the wry observation of a David Sedaris and the understatement of a Sarah Vowell, without too many of the obligatory cuteisms and deadpan-not-deadpan commentary that typify the NPR story-of-me style. Her delivery isn’t entirely flavorless, but her character is almost invisible; her acting-school background comes as a revelation, since her decision here has been to play as casual and innocuous a role as possible and still be the onstage storyteller. Her voice is quiet, her diction moderately regional, her movements somnolent. There’s not much of a contrast between this undecorated presentation and the simple eloquence of the language; much more “show” and the words would be undercut; altogether, as a fun fifty minutes’ pastime, the thing works.
As theater, it’s more questionable. It’s hard to tell what function Margot Leitman served; as credited director, her duties may have included advising her actor on when to stand stage right and when to make a casual cross left, or arranging the few projected slides and fewer, less successful music cues. If she asked Collins to modulate her voice or make more than an obligatory use of the body in pursuit of a thematic or emotional build, she was not successful. There’s not much in the way of discovery and certainly no catharsis here. It doesn’t look like anyone intended them. But if aiming low is not inherently virtuous, neither is it a crime. If you want to giggle and guffaw at the travails of a girl trying to understand the ways of the world, without the intellectual burden of a larger moral investigation, this one-woman show supplies no more and no less.
Two performances only:
Plays Saturday June 14 and Sunday June 28 2015 at 7 pm
Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way in Hollywood
for tickets visit www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/2101?tab=tickets