Frigid Festival has really stepped up their game this year, is what I was thinking as I descended down the stairs from the Red Room, still reeling from the one-man show It or Her by Alena Smith. The medium of madness is one that has so many artistic possibilities, and when performed well it can be a goldmine for the audience. Nuances and colors of the human condition can be given a larger leash with which to run. Nothing is as delightful, for me, as a luscious character study set into a well-told tale. This production is all that and more.
We are introduced to Andrew in the dark, admonishing some people for whispering. All we see is a flashlight beam cutting a line in the darkness. When he turns the lights on in his basement, we find a disheveled man in long johns and glasses holding court with about 30 figurines, not people, as he struggles to place them in The Ultimate Arrangement. And so begins the audience’s love affair with this production, a black comedy about a man whose inability to relate to people causes him to turn to objects instead, and ultimately lose himself in his fantasy world. As we learn more about Andrew, from his one-sided dialogue (or is it?) with his “devilish coquettes” – the porcelain female figures that he collects – we slowly form another picture of what his life was really like before he became the creepy guy in the basement.
McManamon’s physicality was genius. He completely took control of the stage. I found myself amazed, over and over, how this man could not only create such an amazing physical life of a neurotic and over-the-top character, but also have such grace on stage to constantly move about or even break into dance, and not break a single figurine. What’s genius is not that he didn’t break one, but that he kept his emotional life going the whole time. I didn’t see an actor thinking he had to be careful to not break any props; I saw the character thinking that he had to keep the things he loved safe. As it should be. Regarding the performance as a whole, whether the moments were Andrew being hilariously ridiculous, or tender reflection on how he wished he had a child, the actor was always throwing himself completely in his work – and enjoying every minute. This kind of artistic joy is not lost on the audience.
Director Jessi D. Hill took care to not fall into the trap of stereotypes, nor of playing for laughs (which was not necessary with McManamon’s shrill crooning over the objects of his obsession). I enjoyed the staging; Hill brought all of the complexities of this tragic character out in the open using a minimalist space of a trunk and three fluorescent wall lights. Overall a fabulous show, with a yummy twist at the end that surprised even this reviewer. Yes, Frigid has definitely stepped it up.
~~~Or It Or Her Wednesday, February 24, 2010 through Thursday, March 04, 2010 Length: 45 mins Seating: General Admission The Red Room 85 East 4th Street New York, NY 10003 (Between 2nd and 3rd Ave.) click here to buy tickets and for more information