nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
October 24, 2007
I remember, back in the 1980s, when political activism was cool. Having a heightened awareness of world events and issues was something people wanted, especially young people. Amnesty International, Live Aid, and "We Are the World" were just three of the many pivotal forces that exposed the '80s youth culture to causes like human rights and world hunger. This was also the decade that brought the masses movies about Communism and the Russian Revolution (Reds), the Vietnam War (The Killing Fields, Platoon), and racism and apartheid (Do the Right Thing, Cry Freedom), among many other topics. It didn't matter what one thought of these works or causes or organizations: they were an everyday part of life back then, and popular culture was on a mission to change the world.
I mention all this because Kathryn Blume's wonderful new solo show, The Boycott, feels like its cut from the same fervent, optimistic cloth. This is smart, clever, funny, entertaining theatre that makes political activism appealingly cool while unabashedly striving to make it part of the everyday fabric of life again.
In this autobiographical show, Blume's passion to save the environment causes her to write a screenplay, also called "The Boycott," in which the First Lady of the United States leads a nationwide sex strike to force her husband, the President, to sign a sweeping, all-encompassing pro-environmental bill into law. Blume envisions this as a big-budget Hollywood comedy starring the likes of Susan Sarandon, George Clooney, and Will Smith. But, she knows that it takes even the biggest Tinseltown insiders years to get a movie made. With odds like that she figures that someone like herself, a self-described "obscure solo performer from Vermont," doesn't have a chance of getting their script green-lighted. Besides, the earth doesn't have years: if Blume can't get the word out quickly enough, it may be too late to do any good.
So, she re-envisions her script as a one-person show (in which she acts out the entire story and plays all the characters) that juxtaposes thoughts and moments from her actual life, and the inner journey she takes while writing the script.
As a vehicle for its writer and star, The Boycott is a tour-de-force that shows Blume off as a versatile and highly imaginative talent. Successfully playing more than a dozen different characters—including a sassy southern First Lady, a poker-faced but likable Secret Service agent, and a Zen-like Brazilian tree frog with a gift for profound platitudes—Blume's fluid, high-energy performance makes what she accomplishes here look like the easiest thing in the world. She possesses great comic timing, and is immensely endearing when she confesses stuff like the only three things keeping her from completely losing it as she watches the earth's environmental "death spiral": yoga, dark chocolate, and cuteoverload.com.
The story of The Boycott itself is totally engrossing. Featuring a plethora of historical myths (like Abraham Lincoln's secret White House stash of absinthe), fictional technological advancements (like a solar-powered blazer that can send and receive faxes and also serve as a GPS transponder), and colorful characters (like Iniga, the aforementioned tree frog, who is a hilarious cross between Yoda, Confucius, and Mandy Patinkin's single-minded avenger from The Princess Bride), The Boycott is an inventive romp that would undoubtedly make a terrific film, but is rib-ticklingly potent and enjoyable in its current theatrical incarnation.
Even though Blume packs the script full of information about worldwide climate change and her own feelings about it, The Boycott never once feels didactic or preachy or dull. She makes the political both personal and fun by throwing in a lot of laughter between the many potential tears, and turns the show into a party-like rallying cry for citizens of the world to get off their duff and do something. (It is very much to Blume's credit that the first thing I wanted to do immediately after seeing The Boycott was join Greenpeace.)
Director Jason Jacobs encourages Blume's friendly, earthy confidence as both a performer and a person to come to the forefront—another great touch that makes a world of difference—and is magically able to differentiate between his leading lady's actual life and the world of The Boycott with a simple light change all throughout the production. The show's design team matches Blume's versatility with a spare but effective parade of banners, movable set pieces, and well-placed sound cues.
Most important of all, however, is the fact that Blume gets her point across clearly and forcefully without force-feeding the audience. For, as funny and entertaining as The Boycott is, there is still an urgent message that sits at the heart of it, as the author/star reminds us near the show's climax: "No matter how bad things get, there are still some things in this world worth fighting for—like this world." Damn right.