Broken Nails: A Marlene Dietrich Dialogue
nytheatre.com review by Heather Lee Rogers
November 11, 2010
It is not often that you get to see a two-character dialogue play performed by a single woman, but Broken Nails: A Marlene Dietrich Dialogue is exactly that. The production, written and directed by Romuald Wicza-Pokojski, is currently playing at The Club space at La MaMa as part of the La MaMa Puppet Series and produced in association with The Polish Cultural Institute in New York. The play's conceptual creator and sole performer is Anna Skubik of the Worclaw Puppet Theatre.
In Broken Nails, Skubik portrays both Marlene Dietrich in her final days in Paris and a woman who could have been her maid, named "Gloria." Gloria dresses like a man, is shy, uncomfortable, and full of yearning. She begins the play asking when it will be her turn to sing and dance, her turn to take the place of her icon. Marlene Dietrich is portrayed by Skubik through a life-sized puppet with sparkly blue eyes, with pale blond curls around her large head. Marlene has hands like sandpaper and takes weird injections to keep herself young. As Gloria tries faithfully to take care of Marlene, there is also an apprentice relationship happening as well. Despite her shyness, Gloria wants to learn from Marlene as a performer. Marlene, on the other hand, is trying to teach Gloria how to better embody womanhood. This frequently leads to Gloria getting scolded by the irascible diva. This is heartbreaking because Gloria is trying so hard to live up to Marlene's example of perfection. But Marlene is feeble and in poor health so Gloria's youth and physical strength even the score when they reach conflict.
Skubik utilizes great creativity in her work. She simultaneously plays two women in dialogue with each other, one of which is floppy fabric, unable to stand on her own. She moves and positions the puppet with her entire body (the same body who is playing Gloria) and then justifies that intimacy through the emotional dynamic and circumstance of the moment between the two characters.
The set-up is terrific. The characterization of the two women is great fun. Skubik does a wonderful job filling out both roles. But it doesn't really go anywhere from there. Regardless of the costume changes, which song they are singing, or what topic they are discussing, the relationship between them (however strong) does not really develop or alter. Nothing new gets revealed. There is a fight at the end between the two characters. But because everything previous was played through intense physical contact, the fight didn't register to me at the excitement level it usually does when two bodies apart from each other suddenly engage on stage. It didn't feel like a climax, if that was the intent.
In this, La MaMa's 49th year, their season is called "Bridges," and their aim is to have a place where "artists from around the globe share work and ideas." This production (performed in English) has elsewhere been performed by Skubik in Polish, Greek, and Spanish. Broken Nails, which I'm glad I saw, is beautifully emblematic of that ambitious La MaMa spirit which has been a mainstay of the downtown theatre scene for so long. I just wish the story had been able to move with the power and flexibility of its performer.