nytheatre.com review by Heather McAllister
March 26, 2010
Authenticating Eileen, developed in a six-month workshop period by cast and crew, explores the positive and negative aspects of one young woman's journey to become a fully integrated person. We share her trepidation, her exhilaration, and ultimately her hysteria and despair as she discovers the true cost of reaching for her personal stars: leaving her "unworthy" friends and family behind and finding herself alone.
I did like this show, but I think that its point is both right and wrong, and the way this point is shared also reflects that duality. It's either extremely charming—as in the cute ukulele solo about a day on the internet performed by Karim Muasher as the stodgy yet bouncy boyfriend Tim, or in the fierce "angry woman" movement poem beautifully performed by Monica Rounds—or else it's frankly pulling-out-your-hair tedious.
The show starts with forced audience participation. Two smarmy underlings at a personal growth/life coach workshop we are apparently attending attempt to make painfully dull and condescending small talk with the audience. This section goes on for a very, very long time. Were the cast fully submerging the audience into the horrors of losing one's personality into such a group as "Soderman & Soderman"? If so, it was entirely too authentic for my taste. The workshop begins, and thankfully marks the end of the audience participation and we move on to the play.
We meet the staff of Soderman & Soderman, and the over-the-top characters are pretty much like a skit from a late night TV sketch show, poking fun at these types of self improvement groups and the people who run them. I was just as uncomfortable as if I really were waiting to have my appearance and whole being torn apart in order to be remade in a better version of myself.
We meet Eileen, played by Nora Jane Williams as a sweetly nervous, twitchy woman with social anxiety, a sweet/nerdy boyfriend and a horribly overbearing caricature of a New Jersey family. We meet her personal coach, or "curator," Kelly, played by the lovely Katie Middleton. Kelly's a kind of Barbie Eileen, tall, confident, and beautiful, and the novice/rogue of the group. She's easily the most interesting character in the piece. Maybe she drank the Soderman Kool-Aid, but maybe she spit it out when no one was looking.
There's a nice use of the all-white space, with colorful splashy projections on the back wall by director/media designer Jillian Johnson. The scenes alternate and overlap between newest Soderman & Soderman subject Eileen in various aspects of her life: failing to communicate with her boyfriend, her coworkers and her family; and Eileen in the crisp new world of ultra-communication, Soderman & Soderman, learning to be authentic with the help of their oppressively perky employees.
I wished for more cohesive costumes and lighting to show us where we were physically and emotionally as we jumped from setting to setting, it sometimes was unclear if the scenes had been monitored by Soderman & Soderman, or were recreations. I was confused.
Self-improvement, confidence, and personal perfection are of course things we should all strive for. And achieving the status of a fully integrated, "best" self while managing to keep our friends and family from feeling threatened by the implication that they too are no longer good enough and might be next on the chopping block, along with last year's shoes, that's a tough challenge to meet.
I really wish Authenticating Eileen had explored this point further. I wanted some answers, but was left instead with many more questions.