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nytheatre.com review by Aimee Todoroff
August 14, 2013
A scene from ALABAMA BOUND
Solo performances are one of the most difficult undertakings for an actor. The performer carries the burden of the storytelling entirely, with no scene partners to rely on for rest or to supply the information for the audience that keeps the action moving forward.
In Alabama Bound, actress Linda Nalbandian puts in a valiant effort keeping up a singular focus, but writer and director Charlotte Higgins’s script is never quite able to solve the problem of exposition that comes from not being able to have more than one actor interact, leading to some awkward attempts at exposition within the monologues that mar some otherwise lovely moments.
The play consists of five monologues from five tenacious women, all living hardscrabble lives in Alabama. It opens with a slideshow of a series of gorgeous black and white portraits of women taken by the renowned photographer Eileen Lewis. Playing underneath the projections is the folk tune Alabama Bound made popular by Leadbelly, though this is a softer version than Leadbelly’s wailing rendition. The slideshow continues through the entirety of the song. The faces of the various women, most of whom seem to be living in rural areas in relative poverty, are mesmerizing, but the languid pace of the opening sets up a slow tempo that continues through the rest of the play.
Each of the women we meet in monologue has a unique point of view, and while the singer of the eponymous ballad is on his way to Alabama, it quickly becomes clear that these women are bound in the sense that they are tied to this place through their history and circumstances. It is a delight to see such one-of-a-kind women materialize on stage and any actress looking for an interesting audition piece would be wise to look here. Of the five women, three are deeply compelling. Loretta, a housewife whose body and sense of self are both slowly being taken away from her, is played with a quiet desperation, and Dominique, the inmate “born under an unlucky star” gives Linda Nalbandian a chance to show off her acting chops. Dixie, the wild but world-weary 911 operator, is lovingly written, played with satisfying gumption, and possibly deserving an entire play to herself.
There is a gentleness to this production that makes it an easy hour to digest. However, when one actor is portraying five different characters, choices that may have been intended as subtle can read as timid. Bolder choices in differentiating each character would have helped create the surprising transformation that is so delightful to observe in single performer work. The staging was clean and straightforward, but lacked creativity. Instead of creating a new shape, energy or atmosphere for each monologue, the director simply places the actor in a new area of the stage, forcing each monologue to remain relatively static. The use of blackouts within the first monologue set up confusion about when a new character was entering that lingered through the rest of the play. Still, the characters and their stories resonate. Despite an uneven production, the hearty and resolute women created by Charlotte Higgins and portrayed by Linda Nalbandian are the kind of savvy, passionate and richly conceived roles that should be seen more on stage. You won’t regret the hour spent getting to know these ladies.