nytheatre.com review by Lauren Marks
September 16, 2005
Hi! is a one-woman show, written and performed by Amber Martin. It is an unusual, quirky, and highly musical adventure, in which Martin embodies a series of unconventional characters.
Hi! is a bit of an oddity. It’s not exactly a play since the usual elements of a play are not present here—story, dramatic tension, or a sense of beginning, middle, and end. So what is it? It seems to be a series of vignettes and scene-lettes, strung together by the fact that all characters are all played by the same performer, and that each one incorporates music and a fairly wild costume change. It's a free-associative cabaret enacted by a highly talented performer.
The first character is a televangelist-type, whose wardrobe (all white with a dove perched on her shoulder) makes her look like a cross between Tammy Faye Baker and Snow White. Her extra wide lips only seem to grow larger as they spontaneously burst into Christian anthems. This lady shows a great deal of promise—all of Martin's characters do—but nfortunately, she's not really on stage long enough for the audience to create a strong bond with her. This is true of all the other characters, and as a result it's difficult to derive much meaning from their quick appearances and equally speedy disappearances.
The transitions for this show are a bit problematic. It takes a more than a little while to transform from person to person, as each of them looks pretty radically different from the one before, and usually requires a rinse and a re-application of make-up. Considering what has to be done, it is quite impressive that Martin can accomplish it in the time she does. But, nonetheless, at least ten minutes of this one-hour show are devoted to these changeovers. The ones where she is singing to herself seem to go on the longest. But, there are a couple of highly effective ones; there is a particularly good one where we listen to the character (in voiceover) as Martin changes behind a screen, looking a bit like a James Bond title credits scene, with a light behind her silhouetting her nude body.
Trained as a dancer, Martin has a compelling stage presence. She works her way from a beehive-adorned, country-music-loving small town girl to an Alice Cooper-like rock-scream queen in a leather micro-miniskirt to, still later, a sequined aging lounge singer—to name a few. And, she seems equally invested in the entire menagerie. She is quixotic, committed, and absolutely precise, in every one of her characters. So, getting interested in her isn’t difficult—but that interest might be more sustainable if the piece had a stronger sense of story, or even continuity. Unfortunately, for an audience member with a drive to derive meaning from a variety show, the task is a bit out of reach with the fast paced and spastic Hi!
The design of this show suits Martin’s world well. The set looks a bit like a dressing room, with a screen center stage and a vanity off to the side. It effectively gives the sense of this as an ever-transitioning space. The lighting is especially good at helping to create a new place every time there is a new character. The show also has a highly involved soundtrack, with voiceovers sometimes playing even while she is speaking; it is occasionally distracting, but generally helps to texture the show. The costumes are the real tour de force. They go from wacky and irreverent, to genuinely surreal. They are completely thrilling and very funny; when one comes off, the next one is eagerly anticipated.
Martin says in her program that this show is to “get it out of her system.” Extremely talented as a performer, singer, designer and general character-maker, Martin is someone you have to see to believe. There is a lot going on in the one-woman extravaganza that is Hi! that would be hard to find anywhere else. And, though lacking in much dramatic structure, it is a true adventure into the performer’s psyche, and that is anything but ordinary.