One-person shows can be seductive traps. For theatres with limited budgets, they can appear to be godsends – only one actor to pay! And if the actor is a name, or the play is about a name, all the better: Vanessa Redgrave as Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking, Tovah Feldshuh as Golda Meir in Golda’s Balcony, Carrie Fisher as… Carrie Fisher in Wishful Drinking. I saw all three, and two of them were terrific.
Too often, though, one-person shows are put together and/or performed by people who, sad to say, think their stories and concerns are more interesting than they really are. The shows tend to be self-indulgent, and lack wit, precision, and often the fundamentals of good storytelling. They become presentational lectures which don’t engage the audience.
Fortunately, Annabelle Gurwitch’s one-person show, I See You Made An Effort, is one of the successful examples of the genre. She wrote the script and plays herself, but what she has to talk about is something which, alas, everyone in the audience has either experienced, or sees coming: turning 50 years old, with all that entails in the youth-obsessed society we inhabit.
The show, based on her best-selling book of the same name, is a smart-alecky dialogue with the audience. Not literally a dialogue, of course – I doubt she’d be very happy if people started talking back to her – but so many of the indignities she describes enduring bring groans of recognition from the house.
Magazine covers that promise “Looking good at 20, 30, 40… and beyond” – as if even printing the number “50” was beyond their ability. Discovering that the small print is unreadable not because it’s badly printed, but because you need stronger glasses. Solicitations from AARP: how do they know I’m turning 50? What kind of database do they have?
And, of course, finding that your teen-age son would rather die than acknowledge that he has a mother and it’s you: a large chunk of the show has Gurwitch describing a trip to a concert with her son, in which the generations clash to the sound of punk rock.
She engages members of the audience almost from the moment the lights go up – at the matinee I saw, she interrupted her opening monologue to welcome latecomers with a cheery, “Come on in – traffic is awful, isn’t it?” And throughout the hour and twenty or so minutes she’s onstage, some of the involuntary exclamations from the audience prompt her to smile and nod to the crowd as if to say, “Gotcha with that one, didn’t I?”
Aside from intelligence and literacy – and Gurwitch’s sometimes surrealistically skewed sense of humor – the show benefits greatly from Bart DeLorenzo’s smooth direction, which never allows the energy to flag.
Subtle lighting and the wonderfully quirky projections are the work of Jason H. Thompson, and make a major contribution to the fun. The sound design by John Ballinger is equally evocative, and even provides a running gag for those of us who are Law and Order fans.
Once again, the Skylight Theatre has given us a fresh look at life, even if it’s a life that’s getting older and tireder and more in need of moisturizer. So make an effort. Go see it.
I See You Made An Effort
Written and performed by Annabelle Gurwitch
Directed by Bart DeLorenzo
Through June 15
1816 ½ N. Vermont Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
213-761-7061 or http://skylighttheatrecompany.com