Friday, August 9, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Valley of the Dolls

There’s nothing like an infusion of new blood to get an old cause back on track…which is what New Exhibition Room has accomplished with their comic, ensemble-devised mini play, EEP! Show, about Barbie doll thinking (@ BPT through Aug. 17th). When you leave the theater, you’re thinking about women’s rights again.

Mattel has kept up with the times (Who knew?) by selling a “medical Barbie” and a “Barbie with curves” to satisfy critics who complained that the old Barbie dolls were influencing little girls to think they had to be thin and perfect (not to mention white). The NER show let’s us see the real woman inside “Barbie Doll Bride” and “Malibu Barbie” and their ilk.

Director A. Nora Long and company have a grand time showing us the physical limitations of stiff arms and no elbows: The dolls miss their mouths when they try to eat and fall all over each other, attempting to brawl. But the real women behind the Barbie masks worry about the anemic condition of feminism today. (Some pundits have even declared feminism dead.)

Why, NER posits, is a corporation functioning as a “person” when women can’t! We can’t even get an Equal Rights Amendment ratified. (I’ve often wondered why the Nat’l Organization for Women caved after the ERA was defeated.) So here are a group of smart women starting to talk about it, making theater out of it, and encouraging audiences to make a political noise about it. Hooray.

Sydney Barsky-Russo, who’s eleven, is a delight as the little girl with the Barbies who dreams about her dolls coming to life. Shalaye Camillo is deadpan hilarious as the medical Barbie, blissfully unaware that a baby doll is strapped to her arm. (There’s a delicious moment when it leaves the arm.) Dawn Simmons is wonderfully mechanical as the doll and touching as the woman who just wants to race cars.

Amanda Spinella is a lovely ballerina doll who, when she can speak candidly, reveals the residual pain and suffering dancers face off stage. Molly Kimmerling, too, explores the woman beneath the baby doll voice. Watching the dolls face reality is a crackerjack idea but it feels like a first scene, rather than a completed work. New plays are often works in progress. Here’s hoping NER can expand EEP!