When We Were Superstars | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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When We Were Superstars


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When We Were Superstars, WNEP Theater. The first 15 minutes of this 80-minute show are almost perfect. Peanut (Robyn Okrant) and Jelly (Laura Bailey) are thirtysomething has-beens, former child stars who deliver simultaneous--and conflicting--monologues, tracing their path from young superstars to pathetic figures on a cruise-ship nostalgia tour. Absurdly serious and dryly witty, they pick apart their histories and try to win us over, arrogantly assuming that we're fans who want to know every detail of their small lives.

But when this world premiere--written by Okrant, Bailey, and director Jen Ellison--shifts to Peanut and Jelly's interactions in their dressing room, it spirals into a juvenile wasteland of recriminations and petty cruelties, with little feeling or thought beneath the catty one-liners. Peanut is passive-aggressive; Jelly is screechy and needy. Neither will grow up, and both are stereotypes: the Jewish Peanut has a domineering, guilt-tripping mother; Jelly sleeps around in order to build up her confidence because she's fat.

Okrant and Bailey are both fine, subtle actors with good comic timing--even though they wrote the play themselves, they deserve better than this. It says nothing new about women's friendships or about the pressures of having once been famous, and it has an unlikely ending. There are some wickedly funny moments, but mostly When We Were Superstars feels like improv that's lost its way.

--Jennifer Vanasco

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