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THE LIST

nytheatre.com review by Heather Lee Rogers
August 14, 2012

The List by Jennifer Tremblay is a solo-performance play about a woman in a small village trying to keep it together. She has asked her husband to leave the distracting city so that she can consume more of his attention. But she ends up being tormented by loneliness. His commute to work is longer so she sees less of him. She is left alone with her three small children all day, going mad with the details of housekeeping. There are many references to breathing. She doesn't like her neighbors or the wind across the field and stays indoors to avoid both. She does however make friends with one woman in the village named Caroline whom we find out at the top of the play has died. The woman blames herself for Caroline's death. In order to cope with all of this stress, the woman compulsively makes lists of tasks that she needs to accomplish.

The woman (played by Sofi Lambert) is barefoot, dressed in a girlish black dress with white spots with a white patterned apron. She has a black chalk stick in the front pocket. The stage and sparse set are white-washed. She writes her task lists all over the set as she tells the story. The writing rubs off on her limbs and her fingers. There are black and white illustrations that are projected on the back wall like drawings on a chalk board which add further scenic illustration. As Lambert performs in this interesting black and white landscape designed by the play's director Katie McHugh, there is often the ticking of a clock.

Tremblay's text which Lambert performs is a series of short, one-line ideas. I learned from the program that the play is really written like a list on the page. This requires a lot of work from Lambert to connect the dots. Her energy in doing so is very committed but at times seemed forced and extreme. On one hand, I enjoyed that the prospect of making her friend Caroline a cup of hot chocolate nearly sent the woman into ecstasy and that her husband's suggestion to go to a picnic made her sulk ludicrously like a small child. It's quirky, weird and fun. But at the same time, it made the emotional journey of this solo character harder to receive and relate to. When the play gets to the details of Caroline's death, the fragmentation of the lines and Lambert's hammer-like attack on them attempt to wring out a powerful climax. But the catharsis doesn't work because the audience has been pushed back by so much effort.

However, I enjoyed most of what came before. I liked getting to know this very odd, passionate woman who felt suffocated by her life and her loneliness. There was also a lot of honesty and humor in her observations. The List's design is so visually strong, I think it almost works better as performance art (with a strong narrative) than it does as a play. Of course, theater that takes big risks and can't be easily defined is just what the spirit of FringeNYC is all about.