How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Lost My Virginity
nytheatre.com review by Julia Lee Barclay
August 16, 2011
Aileen Clark appears on the stage in a flash and engages her audience with a broad smile and (throughout the 80 minutes of the show) seemingly boundless energy. She tells us the story of her childhood spent in both South and North America, about being the child of a Scottish father and Nicaraguan mother, her mother’s death when she was 12, her many attempts at love and blending in and out of her multiple extended families. She is fluent in three languages, which she uses to good effect, and has a charming sense of humor about herself and the people she describes. Her attempts to lose her virginity are, frustratingly enough for her, quite chaste, and the end result is both kind of sad and funny.
There is a lot to like in her charismatic presence and in such lines as the one referring to her father as her mother’s "knight in smelly armor" (he worked in mining and was well-liked, with a good job and clearly adored her mother, but was apparently, well, a bit smelly). However, I found that Clark’s overall physicalization of events was somewhat vague and her characterizations of others aside from herself somewhat overly broad and bordering on cliché. When attempting to show the presence of another person, they were not made clear, and when attempting to appear drunk, she stumbled around in a cartoon version of drunkenness.
She is a young woman, which is clear from her youthful sense of perspective on the events that have so far shaped her. To create a one-woman show is a brave task, and she does exude confidence and enthusiasm, which is endearing, but I had the feeling while watching the show that it was more a therapeutic event than a show meant for an audience of strangers. When an actor cries numerous times while telling her own story, it can be engaging, but it can also be somewhat distressing, as we in the audience are left wondering, is she going through this over and over or is she manufacturing this emotion for the show. In either case, the old truism comes to mind that it is better to leave space for the audience to have feelings than for the actor to have all the feelings for us. There were people in the audience who seemed to be friends of hers who were fully engaged, but for those of us who did not know her, the effect was more distancing than engaging.
From the program notes, it is clear that she has worked with others on the piece, including a co-writer, John Caldon, and a director, Claire Rice. There is a shape to the stories, but again, there is a somewhat predictable movement from funny to sad and back around again a couple times, which can seem a bit formulaic. The show also feels too long and could do with some paring down and narrowing of focus. I do not know how close her collaborators are to her personally, but someone with some distance from her and her story could be of use if she wants to hone this piece.
However, Clark is a talented and brave performer. With maturity and some precise physical and acting training, could well be a theater maker to watch in the future.