Squeeze The Dollar, Change Your Life
nytheatre.com review by Clinton Orman
August 17, 2010
When I got home from seeing Squeeze the Dollar, Change Your Life I found in my mailbox a letter from the "Destiny Research Center" promising the "secret of ABSOLUTE happiness" if I only respond right away. I had to laugh because the show I had just seen was a riff on the long tradition of this kind of offer.
Squeeze the Dollar, Change Your Life is a one-woman show by Sigal Shoham, who plays Dr. Amelia, a self-help guru. It takes the form of a modern medicine show, directly addressing the audience in a sales pitch for a product or process which will liberate them from any and all problems. What this product is however is only hinted at and Shoham seems to get further and further away from it as she elaborates on the symptoms it is meant to relieve. She makes it clear that the pitch is for money, and the money she mentions becomes an element in the overall piece.
There is a good deal of audience participation—you actually get your very own dollar to squeeze whenever prompted! The show is lively and holds your attention with an anything-can-happen vibe. Shoham uses an eclectic selection of props—a torso mannequin, a skull, a rope, etc.—and several sections of the piece are in song form performed by Shoham with banjo accompaniment and audience sing-along.
The people delivering these kinds of pitches, the Tony Robbinses of the world, usually radiate a kind of unwavering conviction—after all, they are possessed of the satisfaction and contentment, the quality that they are attempting to sell. Shoham's character however is quite human, fragile even; and in the course of describing disappointments and anxieties, some from her own life, she continually shows a certain vulnerability. It begins as empathy—I understand what you are going through because I have been there too, but immediately it becomes clear that she is still there, that she has the same doubts, worries, and dissatisfactions that plague us all. If this would seem to diminish her capacity to cure us of all these things, she sidesteps it. She is convinced on some level that she holds the answer, although she slips in and out of the role of the convincer.
Her monologue lurches into charges of emotion, as Shoham fleshes out characters and scenes from her own life and goes off on other tangents, then repeatedly reels itself back into its format, finding security again...suggesting that it's all going to be all right, because we are going to get beyond all that. That's what we're here for. At some point in this long shaggy dog story it becomes clear that the roles are actually reversed—that it is actually she who is going to find meaning through the ritual of us paying her. It is we who are the liberators, we who give the gift, she who will be delivered—or so she hopes. It is a clever and subtle transition.
As you probably suspected, Dr. Amelia does not reveal any life-changing secrets in the play. So what is the play about? It seems that here the medium is the message—the most interesting thing about the piece is probably the format. There is a powerful dynamic that occurs when someone says "step right up (or don't touch that dial), I am going to show you something that will change your life." It's hard not to keep watching, if only for a minute or two, when you hear that. Shoham's work has captured some of that magic.