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Who Does She Think She Is?; A . . . My Name Is Still Alice

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WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS?

Pretzelrod Productions

at the Organic Greenhouse

A . . . MY NAME IS STILL ALICE

Summer Night Theatre Ensemble

at the Theatre Building

Rose Abdoo's one-woman show Who Does She Think She Is? offers a scattershot autobiographical contemplation of childhood, therapists, vintage TV, Barbies, and food. The lively Abdoo claims that she can remember every important event of her life in terms of either what she was eating or what she was wearing--often both. She regales us with the details of childhood snacks in front of the TV, her mathematical prowess (hopeless at story problems in high school, but formidable when it comes to calculating fat grams), and her struggle with a therapist who doesn't seem to understand her relationship with cookies.

Directed by Dorothy Milne, this is a pleasant, gently funny hour and a half, but it could do with some trimming and, oddly, a little more self-consciousness. Abdoo has a warm, natural presence onstage and strikes up an instant rapport with the audience; but at times her show is too much like being trapped in a bar with a loquacious if entertaining girlfriend. You can relax, knowing that she'll do the talking for both of you, but as her chatter begins to meander, you wonder if she's working toward any sort of point. Abdoo's loosely structured monologue has some killer observations--I particularly enjoyed her take on Barbie's precarious posture, her nostalgic recollections of school lunches, and the portrait of her "slender, beautiful mother from the Dominican Republic." But the stories seem random, giving us only a general overview of Abdoo's life. Notably, there's no definite conclusion--the show just peters out as Abdoo edges offstage like someone reluctantly hanging up on an enjoyable phone conversation. In a way such guileless behavior onstage is charming, but if the writing were tighter the audience wouldn't need to be cued that the show is over.

Yet the top of the piece is a gem: Abdoo, in the guise of a silver-haired matron named Betty, works the audience with true midwest-hausfrau elan, eventually showing us hilarious slides of her day trip to Chicago. Abdoo might do well to spend less time talking about old TV shows (though her Alice Kramden impersonation is stunning) and more time on personality studies like Betty.

I confess that I've never seen A . . . My Name Is Alice, but I've heard its famous "jockstrap monologue" more times than I can count. And I can say with certainty that A . . . My Name Is Still Alice offers nothing as interesting.

This collection of songs and monologues by various people--originally conceived by Joan Micklin Silver and Julianne Boyd and offered here by the SummerNite Northern Illinois Theatre Ensemble under the direction of Sandra Grand--suffers from unrelenting perkiness. If that were all it suffered from, things would be bad enough (do we really need to see five women dancing jazz squares between songs about sexual harassment?), but it also falls into the easy trap of decrying the woes of modern women by insulting men. One number perpetuates the stereotypes that little girls are smart, clean, and pretty and little boys are obnoxious hellions who never learn. In another monologue, a female doctor lectures about a male disorder known as "small cox," noting that it's most prevalent in men from the Middle East. Her advice: Tell the men that size doesn't matter, "even though we know that's a crock of shit."

Interestingly, this monologue was written by a man. As were more than half the songs and scenes here. I'm not implying that men can't write for women, but they should make sure they understand the issues first, or you get the embarrassing spectacle of a woman defending her unprotected one-night stand by singing about the allure of the guy's Armani sunglasses. No doubt this song is supposed to come across as gritty and Sondheim-esque. But it comes off as vaguely distasteful. As is a sketch about a Mexican diet plan ("Juanita Craiga") that includes several tortillas and a dose of brownish "Mexican tap water."

The five women here have uniformly splendid voices, wasted on mostly dreadful music. The only honest, interesting moment in A . . . My Name is Still Alice is a haunting, simple song about an abandoned baby, beautifully sung by Kate Willinger and the company. Four terrific minutes in an otherwise interminable evening.

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