Dirty Barbie and Other Girlhood Tales
nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
July 10, 2012
Barbie is having all the fun in this poignant one-woman show written, directed and performed by Denise Stewart. Full of universal experiences and able to transport the audience back to the best (as well as the hardest) moments of childhood, the show is bound for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe later this summer.
Denise enters in adult clothes, then transforms into a young girl wearing a Smurfette t-shirt and playing with Barbies. The year is 1978. After losing Dad to cancer, Mom moves the four children to the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Happy days ensue. The adults in the background may not be perfect, but what the children see is what they later act out with Barbie and friends.
Some of the memories tenderly match up with the 1980s. For example, a girl gets yelled at by her friends for failing to execute the correct Michael Jackson dance moves. Projections of family pictures track the good times and different hairstyles. Due to stress, Mom drinks and ruins her health. Denise gains some weight and, in one moving scene, refuses to go to spring break with her friends so she will not have body image issues. However, she gets the last laugh by telling them she will stay home and masturbate; as usual, they will have all the sex and she will have all the orgasms. As Denise becomes more liberated and self-reliant, she still looks to Barbie as an example. Perhaps that's why Barbies continue to sell so well.
I congratulate Denise Stewart for writing such a touching play. When I entered the theater and saw onstage an unmade bed, various outfits and Barbie dolls scattered about, I thought for a split second that I would not be able to relate. On the contrary, I was transported (like Denise) into a new part of the country and into an intriguing story of growing up. If you have at least one parent or sibling (whether you liked them or not) you will get something out of these tales and enjoy the energetic performance.