by Ron Cohen · August 17, 2014
It’s finally happened. The abundance -- some might say plethora -- of solo shows on the independent theater scene has inspired a devastating and hysterically funny deconstruction of the genre. It‘s called ONE WOMAN GONE WRONG, and this New York International Fringe Festival entry should be essential viewing for anyone thinking of creating such an opus, if for no other reason than as a guide to the potential pitfalls.
It was written by and is “starring” (yes, that vainglorious term so scorned by indie theater denizens actually appears in the program) Leslie Caveny. Her credits include writing for several acclaimed sitcoms -- from Mad About You to Everybody Loves Raymond -- and although I wasn’t a consistent watcher of these particular TV shows, I’m sure her work here must match or better their funniest stuff.
The show has been astutely directed by Karl Bury, whose staging and sentiments seem to be in total synch with Caveny’s great comic style. Things start in a familiar way. Standing center stage, Caveny intones with just the slightest hint of portentousness: “I remember a house…” She goes on to remember a number of other things, including yellow shingles, green shutters, the starry sky, while projections behind her illustrate the list. But not too far into this recitation, she pauses. It‘s a long pause. She starts again, halts again. Finally, she calls for a line from someone holding book in the wings, a rather inept prompter, who after much give and take, Caveny introduces to the audience as her friend Sally. (Because this really isn’t a one-person show, there are other actors.)
But Caveny is still unable to get past her stumbling block, which she blames on a note from the director. In her exasperation, she declares “I shouldn’t be doing a one-woman show.“ And as her exasperation grows, she asks “What am I trying to prove up here alone? I have no friends?” And that was just the beginning of a cascade of laugh lines that brought me to tears.
Along with her consternation with Sally, Caveny has wicked exchanges with an actress playing her mother and still another woman in the audience whom she claims is her real mother, although the woman continually denies it. Later, Caveny gets into a contretemps with her lighting man, arguing about cues and their intensity, and he answers with a series of light changes that, believe it or not, provides one of the funniest moments in the show. She also let us know that she was originally planning to do her show as a musical, and she delivers what was to be the opening number -- a delicious sendup of the self-searching anthems that climax so many Broadway scores.
Caveny’s ranting gradually morphs into a standup routine that rips into such themes as the difficulties of pursuing a career as an actor, especially when coming up against imbecilic demands of a casting director (“Can you sink your jaw in?”), the indignities of reaching 50 years of age and the overall importance put on appearance in contemporary life.
Finally, though, Caveny returns to her one-woman show script and delivers without stopping a full-fledged monolog filled with dour remembrances. Is she showing us that she could indeed do a respectable one-person show if she wanted to? Are we to take it seriously when she tells us about the repeated suicide attempts of a woman who taught her how use to makeup? I couldn’t say, but at that point, I couldn’t care less. I was just grateful to Caveny for giving me one of the most laugh-filled afternoons I’ve had in a long time.