nytheatre.com review by David Fuller
August 12, 2006
Camille M. Brown has written and performs her one-woman autobiographical show, Shelf Life, an exploration into the midlife crisis of a 40-something Broadway veteran who, according to the press materials, is one of the last remaining original cast members currently performing in The Lion King. Brown, whose press materials also tell us is a commercial actress and print model, is evidently undergoing severe angst about getting older, especially with respect to that internal maternal clock for potential child-bearing. She has chosen to work through these psychological difficulties by presenting to us a series of vignettes.
The triggering event is her seeing a young beauty in a container store; this gets her thinking about her own age lines, her recent marriage, and her feelings about having children. She visits her gynecologist, deals with two pregnant co-workers in her dressing room, babysits a real terror of a child, and presents a unique interpretation of an imaginary C-section birth. Along the way, Brown also riffs on the cosmetics industry and the whole anti-aging thing that is so prevalent in our society.
Director Matt Hoverman keeps Brown moving through her therapy at a good pace. Together, they have concocted an entertaining piece that is both comedic and poignant, though in a way it is more performance art than play. There is a high dependency on props, almost to the Gallagher level. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does evidence that Hoverman and Brown haven't settled on just what type of performance they want to do—is it a play, a monologue, or some sort of hybrid? I would lobby heavily for Brown moving to performance art—she is a gifted physical comic with a witty sensibility for prop jokes.
I get the feeling that Brown is trying to break out of her mold as a Broadway chorine, clearly something with which all dancers have to come to terms. But, though we may understand the need for her journey, she presents us with a beautiful woman who is clearly in top physical shape, so our sympathies for the anxieties of a clearly successful Broadway trooper currently on the top of her game cannot run too deep. Yet we know that her ride at the crest of the wave will not last much longer, so Brown should be commended for her efforts to branch out.
All in all, Shelf Life is an entertaining hour, though it is hardly enlightening: Brown's journey ends with the realization that it is okay to get old. So, don't go for the big message, go to see a worthy effort by a working Broadway pro who is exploring performance outside the realm of Ms. Taymor's giant African puppets.