My Life as a Blonde
nytheatre.com review by Terri Galvin
August 15, 2004
What is it about some mothers that makes their daughters reach for garlic and a wooden stake, terrified of looking in the mirror one morning and seeing her reflection gazing back? Why this fervent need to exorcise any last vestige of those She-Devils who spawned us? Perhaps because embracing such issues as grist for the creative mill can succeed less often as artistic expression and more often as self-indulgent catharsis. (Witness a recent New Yorker cartoon in which the sullen adolescent threatens her exasperated mom, “Just you wait until I write my autobiographical one-woman show!”)
Thank god for the blessed crucible of fiction, which, paradoxically, often achieves portrayals more universally “truthful” than real life could ever be. In the fictional My Life as a Blonde, playwright/solo performer Ilana Manaster has distilled some intensely charged truths from the age-old mother-daughter conflict, and the result is a satisfying theatrical experience that, although imperfect, never slides into the usual predictable pseudo-therapeutic rant.
Manaster’s narrator, Gina, presents her glamorous and heartbreakingly-deluded mother, Kansas Winters (also played by Manaster), as a seductive but ultimately hapless would-be starlet, a woman whose charismatic dysfunction Gina is determined not to repeat in her own life. It doesn’t help matters that the beautiful Kansas subjects her daughter to such jauntily optimistic neglect that it can be difficult to discern between her buoyant sincerity in finding a “new daddy,” and her alcoholic haze of pathetic denial. But all the chic designer outfits (“an investment,” she breezily assures Gina) and temporary “uncles” (“not the ethical elite,” Gina informs us darkly) cannot keep Gina from fleeing just as soon as she’s old enough to trade on her own sexuality.
Inevitably, the farther Gina escapes, the more thoroughly she replicates Kansas’s legacy of addiction and emptiness. Manaster and her director, Maddy Lederman, chronicle her journey by interspersing the narration with flashback scenes and grainy, hand-held “home movies” highlighting milestones in each woman’s life. The balanced combination of media and theatricality keeps us surprisingly grounded in Gina’s “reality,” partially quelling the suspicion that we’ve heard this bleak tale countless times before. Since Gina’s descent seems almost classically predetermined, her story risks devolving into cliche. Manaster, however, does her best to respect her creation, allowing her a messy, individualized struggle and a redemption without tidy resolution.
If only every mother were this generous to her offspring.