nytheatre.com review by J Jordan
October 25, 2006
Victoria Stewart's play Live Girls begins with Sarah (played by the engaging Pamela Hart), a performance artist, in performance mode. She is pretending to be Einstein, I think—it's hard to understand what she's saying given the thick accent she's trying out. Then she switches into a character she has created based on an interview with Sonia Ridge, a porn star smartly portrayed by Suli Holum. Sarah's goal throughout Live Girls is to create a performance piece based on injustice, but the relationship she develops with Sonia leads her in an entirely different direction.
Despite the personal questions asked in the interview and the snippets we see of Sarah performing as Sonia, Sarah is never able to capture the essence of who Sonia really is. As a result, Sarah is never satisfied with her portrayal of Sonia, wearing Sonia like a dress that doesn't fit yet she refuses to take it off. From my perspective, Sarah can never convincingly be Sonia because she refuses to be herself. She rarely allows the audience or anyone else—Sonia and her put-upon assistant Allison included—to see who she really is. When she asks Sonia why she does what she does for a living, Sonia retorts with the same question; Sarah's response is that she prefers to be other people.
Sonia becomes Sarah's and therefore the audience's primary focus. We see the interview between Sarah and Sonia, but not those with other characters Sarah presumably interviews for her performance piece. Occasionally the interview is broken up by Sarah's assistant Allison, ably if simply played by Jenny Maguire, who is equally as driven as Sarah and manages to keep Sarah in check.
Live Girls is a piece about performance, theatrical and X-rated, but to me it also seemed to be about women—what they want, what drives them and their sexuality. I was genuinely interested in seeing if each woman would get what she wanted, even though I wasn't always entirely clear what that was. The question for me was not whether Sarah and Sonia would make their professional relationship personal—of course they would—but whether Sarah would use that part of the interview in her piece.
The actors are all game and give their roles their best. Holum's Sonia drapes herself over the couch better than any afghan could, unable to shed her come-hither visage (not that she has any reason to), while Hart's Sarah tries to remain focused on performance—the one she is working on and the one she is providing for Sonia. It's fun to watch Sarah squirm when she's so used to being in charge and to watch Allison try to keep Sarah on track, all the while serving an agenda of her own.
The lighting, scenic, and costume design (by Josh Bradford, John McDermott, and Amela Baksic respectively) are all very modern and naturalistic, save for the blackouts and the lights focused on Sarah when she performs.
The element that struck me the most was the use of sound. The sound design, by Lindsay Jones, who also created the original music, is appealing, but what really works are the pre-recorded sections of the interview. These are utilized in a number of ways: Sarah records Sonia; Sarah listens to the tapes to get into Sonia's character, visualizing Sonia on the couch (Holum is actually there); Sonia mouths along with her pre-recorded voice in perfect synch; and Sarah speaks over Sonia speaking over her pre-recorded voice.
At the end of the play, Sarah is left with only her tape recorder and the recorded sound of her finally letting go. Allison has been banished and Sonia has walked out on her. Sadly, the one intimate moment she shares with Sonia we never get to see. Instead Sarah plays it back on the tape recorder. That private moment is the first possibility of real connection Sarah has allowed herself and the audience is essentially robbed of it. It's a shame, because I really wanted to see what Sarah was like when she wasn't performing.