Becoming Liv Ullmann
nytheatre.com review by Aimee Todoroff
August 16, 2012
We all have that symbolic idol, that ideal we fixate on as a balm to all of our flaws, whether it be Steve McQueen, Marilyn Monroe or, in my case, Audrey Hepburn. For Crystal Finn, that person is Liv Ullmann, the enigmatic actress and "muse" of the great film director Ingmar Bergman. In Becoming Liv Ullmann, we meet the playwright and actress (Crystal Finn playing herself) the night before she is supposed to meet her ex-boyfriend at a coffee shop, where she will win back his heart by transforming into the embodiment of Liv Ullmann, his teenage crush. Crystal has had two weeks to figure out the secret of becoming Liv Ullmann, but in what seems to be a personality trait of Crystal's that is in direct opposition to Liv Ullmann-ness, she has put off any serious research until the last minute. Armed with a vague understanding that Liv Ullmann is a Swedish actress—or maybe she's Norwegian?—and some clips from YouTube, Crystal asks her friends and audience members to help her change from who she is to who she thinks her ex-boyfriend wanted her to be.
The fast-paced show seems to fly by in fifty minutes, in part due to the delightful and complex character Crystal Finn has created in "Crystal." She engages the audience immediately, interacting as if with friends. She will, at times, challenge the audience, questioning our responses to her performance in much the same way we imagine she questioned her ex-boyfriend's responses to her, leading to her obsession with becoming someone she thinks he wants her to be.
Crystal Finn's script keeps the action lighthearted and fun, and as an actress, she has the vulnerable strength and whimsical honesty that are the epitome of the "awesome oxymorons" she admires in Liv Ullmann. The production, directed by Danny Mefford, plays with the concept of spontaneity. We walk in to a theater set up with a few chairs, a few props and a music stand. There is no music and the lighting is almost at "work lights" level. As the play starts, Crystal Finn walks out with notes, which she refers to on occasion, but begins talking directly and casually to the audience. They create the illusion of a completely spontaneous event, unrehearsed and immediate, which is fascinating given the premise that we are there to help a woman who is unprepared for an event happening the next day. It takes great skill on the part of both Mefford and Finn to push the boundaries of naturalistic performance so far while keeping the audience engaged.
It is no surprise that by the end of the play, we've seen this quirky, somewhat difficult but lovable woman discover self-acceptance without having to become someone else, but the journey is unpredictable, fun and sweetly satisfying.