nytheatre.com review by Robert Attenweiler
August 17, 2009
It can be difficult when one's imagination becomes more real than reality. This is the problem facing Alberta Lesalle and the focus of 1-900-Selfplex, an interesting new play written by Alex DeFazio running at the Cherry Lane Studio Theater.
Alberta (Deena Jiles) lives with her girlfriend, Max (Jennifer Joyce), and the two women struggle to be noticed as artists in a world where Max does grunt work for a record company and Alberta works as a phone sex operator. But, while dispensing with her dirty talk, Alberta gets an idea: people don't care about what's real and what's fake, so long as they are given a good story. So, Alberta taps into the character of J.C., a transgendered teenage boy—who she "sees" in her imagination and we see onstage played by Patrick Martin. J.C.'s story becomes a hit, netting Alberta's pseudonym a book deal and forcing her to come up with even more imaginary characters, such as J.C.'s doctor and his social worker, to keep the reclusive young celebrity from ever being seen by the public. Alberta even goes so far as to hire Max's estranged sister, Abby (Michelle Wood), to play J.C. in public until, predictably, Alberta's real and imagined lives become too much to maintain.
I say "predictably" not to disparage the events of this play, but to point out their inevitability. But inevitability can be very fun to watch—and that is the case with 1-900-Selfplex. Jiles plays Alberta with a self-assurance that increases the weight that her eventual comeuppance will crush down on her. And DeFazio has crafted a well-written play that gives us a different angle on the "fake memoir" debate. This one shows how real the fake character can become and how, in this case, J.C. is the tragic victim of Alberta's ambition. Jody P. Person's direction also does a nice job of keeping J.C. very present in Alberta's world, while keeping him invisible to all the other characters.
It would be interesting, though, to see DeFazio's take on this story if Alberta were a more fleshed-out and sympathetic character, rather than someone whose clear hubris is the cause of her undoing. That way, I might be talking more about the characters and their relationships (all of which are interesting, but suffer from a lack of development) rather than just the enjoyment of seeing my anticipated train wreck delivered ...albeit, delivered well.