Sex and Sealing Wax
nytheatre.com review by Pun Bandhu
July 25, 2006
Romy Nordlinger's one woman show is loads of fun. It has nothing to do with sealing wax and everything to do with sex. The title refers to a quote from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass:
"The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things: Of shoes—and ships—and sealing wax—Of cabbages—and kings."
The quote is apt, as Nordlinger does a good job of depicting the bizarre and otherwise surreal effect that the Looking Glass of media and society has had on her characters through the ages. In this adrenalin-fueled manifesto, Nordlinger calls for women to re-invent themselves in their own image.
Nordlinger first drops us into the late 1920s, where women have just won the right to vote. We see a Clara Bow look-alike excited and hopeful for the sexual revolution around the corner. This scene acts as the counterpoint for every other scene to follow, as all the other characters show what little distance has actually been traveled since the "revolution." Among them: a 1960s British woman whose vicious comments about a neighbor shows us the powerful role that gossip can play in reinforcing expected behavior, a 37-year-old tough talking Latina waitress who must defend why she has chosen not to get married and have kids, a lonely widow looking back on her missed opportunities, and a modern Long Island Jewish woman looking for love and obsessed with her weight.
Director Hilary Adams layers in an emotional arc throughout the piece, and oversees a production that is much slicker than one would expect to see at the modest facilities of the Where Eagles Dare Theatre. Most impressive are video projections of a satirical infomercial for an "Existential Make Over" which play between scene changes. It is in these films that the wittiest lines in the play are delivered, when Nordlinger portrays a clinician rattling off a slam poetry-esque sales pitch to female consumers sick of their "low fat, low carb, low self-esteem" diets.
Nordlinger is an emotionally available and very watchable actress, who inhabits all her characters honestly. However, I do have to say that many of her characters did not come across to me as being fully deepened. I did not believe that she had "lived" these characters lives, particularly those characters like the widow who are significantly older than herself. She is most effective while playing a sassy yet vulnerable 16-year-old dealing with her sexual stirrings. She acts out her anxieties about sex through simulated acts with her Barbie and Ken dolls, equating sex with rape in the process, which I found to be the only truly devastating moment of the evening. This scene had the most authentic voice in a show where, for the most part, I felt the actress was hiding behind accents (which slipped in and out), animated facial expressions, and characters detached from her own experience. Even after she bares her breasts in a final scene as an empowered stripper fully decked out in a sexy Alice in Wonderland costume, I did not feel like I "saw" her naked truths.
The writing (co-written with husband Adam Burns) is wonderfully cheeky, though, and who cares if the truth remains elusive in this Wonderland? Nordlinger looks like she's having so much fun on that stage that everyone will want to take a trip down this delightful rabbit hole.