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Lipshtick (Fringe Festival 2011)

by Michelle Augello-Page on August 21, 2011

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Lipshtick is an ambitious play, taking the audience on a funny, poignant, and complex journey through what it meant to be a woman in 20th century America amidst a media blitzkrieg mirroring society’s perceptions, ideals, and images, while seeking to expose how women internalize and externalize these expectations as they struggle towards a sense of self and continue to define the realities and experiences of being female in American society in the present.

Written by Romy Nordlinger and Adam Burns, “Lipshtick” is centered around the Make-Me-Over Show, a reality T.V. show which eavesdrops on women’s lives by hacking into their media devices in order to find the next contestant to win an appearance on the show. The lucky winner will receive the ultimate make-over, becoming the very image of society’s ideal woman.

Lipshtick is brilliantly directed by Bricken Sparacino, whose deft touch is felt throughout the play, as complicated political, philosophical, psychological, and socio-economic issues are tempered with humor and humanity, resulting in a seamless, moving, and powerful work of Art.

The three MC’s of the Make-Me-Over Show (Scout Durwood, Aja Houston, Romy Nordlinger) enter the scene with matching outfits – bouffant wigs, white lab coats, and cat-style glasses – shimmying, shaking, and singing in unison like a girl group of the 1950′s on Acid. The dialogue among the MCs is extraordinarily clever and utilizes rhythm, rhyme, and sharp wit, giving the actors the opportunity to truly shine as a team, as they work together and play off each other to complete each other’s sentences, speak and sing in unison, and reflect the warped, surreal, and savage world of the media through the lens of the Make-Me-Over Show.

Brilliant and ruthless collages of various media (television shows, commercials, and movies) projected at intervals throughout the play serve as an additional ever present character and reflect the media’s role in shaping and reflecting society’s image of women during various periods of time. The visual design by Adam Burns employs innovate projection techniques and uses video as stage-set, projected backdrop, and visual and auditory back-story; the frenetic movement of the collages mirror the daily assault of media in our lives.

In the search for the next “winner” to appear on the Make-Me-Over Show, the audience is taken on a series of vignettes exposing and exploring the places American women found themselves at different points during the 20th century. Throughout these vignettes, each actor is given the spotlight to weave a spell over the audience, sharing their individual and powerful talents as they unfold and embody several characters. Scout Durwood, Aja Houston, and Romy Nordlinger are extremely talented actors, able to stretch, create, and open up the worlds of vastly different characters with humor, physicality, and heart-breaking humanity.

Scout Durwood’s character of Maggie, a working class middle-aged housewife at odds with sexual liberation, begins her vignette gossiping as she does the laundry. She yells at neighbor kids, and makes the audience laugh with her wit and sharp observations. As she downplays her own sexuality, her beauty becomes more insistent and recognizable. As she explores her role as a woman and housewife, Durwood’s Maggie is simply and beautifully revealed, leaving us with a woman struggling with questions of love and marriage, trying to find meaning and purpose in her life as a woman confronting her own evolution in a rapidly changing world.

Aja Houston’s character of Edith, an old woman reflecting on her life alone after her husband’s death, begins her vignette taking care of and talking to a plant. We discover that the plant holds her husband’s ashes, and that she is addressing her late husband. This character holds deep maturity as she reflects on her age, on love, and on life with her husband. Houston’s Edith is all heart and hope, an old woman having made mistakes, having learned some lessons, and finding at her mature age, a surprise – a bud on the plant, promising, even as women grow old, their magnificent potential for flowering.

Romy Nordlinger’s character of Kathy, an adolescent girl trying to make sense of her place as an emerging woman and wrestling with questions of sexuality and image, begins her vignette playing with a Barbie doll and a Ken doll. In a heartbreaking moment, she reflects upon her changing body, so unlike Barbie’s ideal figure and long blonde hair, and wonders if she can still be beautiful. Nordlinger’s Kathy is expertly woven; her naïveté and youth is handled with humor and sensitivity, and her confusion, awkwardness, and desire to understand her sexuality and what that means in an adult world, is rooted in all of us.

At the end of the play, a “winner” is chosen; however, the winner does not want to appear on the Make-Me-Over Show show. Her refusal to buy into society’s version of what it means to be a woman causes a breaking down of the very system on which the show is built. In a frenzied deconstruction, the three MC’s smear lipstick on their mouths and attempt to strip away the pervasive and damaging messages from media and society, resulting in an ending reminiscent of the second wave of feminism, returning us to the questions raised in the early 1970s when women burned their bras, the demand for a new dialogue as to what it means to be a woman in society, and to define these questions with better answers.

There is one more chance to see  Lipshtick as part of the New York International Fringe Festival at the lovely Dixon Place Theater: August 24 @ 6:15.


Writer: Romy Nordlinger & Adam Burns, Video Design by Adam Burns
Director: Bricken Sparacino

1h 30m
VENUE #5: Dixon Place
Wed 24 @ 6:15

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ELLEN KAHNNo Gravatar August 21, 2011 at 9:35 pm


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