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|A CurtainUp Review
What Ever: An American Odyssey in Eight Acts
By Amanda Cooper
Heather Woodbury is a force to be reckoned with. Performing a ten 1/2 hour solo show over four nights is hard enough to wrap one's brain around, but it becomes mind boggling when there are over 100 different characters who show up throughout the evenings -- and dialogue with each other. Fortunately for the viewer, Woodbury approaches this form with clarity, giving each of her characters, especially her ten main characters, a specificity which makes them instantaneously recognizable. And if four nights of theater seems overwhelming, What Ever became a bona-fide "living novel" published by Farrer, Straus & Giroux/Faber this month!
As my first night (of two) with Woodbury progressed, she became increasingly comfortable with her own idea, physically easing into the moments more and more (or perhaps it was the audience who needed time to ease into her idea). She has mastered the one-performer dialogue and finessed the amount of movement between lines as well as the instantaneous character switches, surpassing even herself with the highly physical scenes that required much movement when transitioning from person to person.
Woodbury's words can be overly poetic and push too hard to illustrate the effects of drugs on teenagers. When she's at her best, the text surfaces crazy, unexpected humor that also manages to make clever commentaries on America. The audience is treated to images of Kurt Cobain as a friendly ghost, and a seventy year-old gay man claiming to have invented Raves.
There is a strong feeling that this was originally done on a small stage with small audiences. As a result, my experience sitting in the second row was more engaging than the evening I spent in the fifth row. It was disappointing that the versatility of this theater space was not used to its full potential, and we were simply placed proscenium-style. Keeping the bare set and props (a few chairs and microphone stands, a headband and pie panů) similar to the setup of a club gig worked well.
This is a down-and-dirty show that should accept all aspects of its own form, and not try to hide the roughness; for example, almost-blackouts between scenes when Woodbury was preparing were unnecessary and a lot less interesting than letting the audience watch those transitions take place.
Every act has its own crazy costume, ranging from hippie tie-die dresses and leggings to an old Cheerios T-shirt and ripped up, bright pants. These costumes did not seem to represent any of the characters, but perhaps they were more about representing the styles of that era? Despite some staging problems, and the fact that ten 1/2 hours over four nights is longer than necessary, this is a tour-de-force. Originality and humor greatly compliment Woodbury's talent as a performer and writer.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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