nytheatre.com review by Robert Attenweiler
August 18, 2012
Solo shows, because of their nature of having only one performer, tend to rise and fall on a wave of perspective. Because the performer is quite often the writer (and often the producer and sometimes the director) what makes a good solo show really click, often, is getting to see a pure, undiluted voice, vision and perspective. Essentially, we get to see how one person sees things. In Chrysalis, the new solo show by writer/performer Evangeline Crittenden, we see how one person deals with the loss of a loved one; and loss, while certainly not a new topic to the stage, is enough of a personal journey, that one person's perspective can still be a new, engaging journey. At its best moments, Crittenden's show does—and is—just this.
Chrysalis starts with a surprise birthday party. Crittenden passes out hats, presents the cake and practices what to say when the birthday boy arrives. But (and, maybe, you've anticipated this knowing that you're seeing a solo show) the birthday boy never arrives. What unfolds are fragments—stories, songs, images—about loss, then acceptance and, finally, hope. The thread of all of these fragments is the story of a girl who has lost her beloved older brother. Crittenden assumes different characters—an old woman, the girl's oblivious roommate, the girl as a child and the family dog—to give us the effect the death has on the girl. We never get the event, just the effect. Crittenden also uses a puppet, the Grief Monster, and two singer-songwritery songs that were, for me, the highlight of the show.
As a performer, Crittenden has a casual, unpolished air. At times, this adds to her overall vulnerability and sympathetic standing with the audience. At others, it loosens her grip on the audience's attention. There is a similar feeling of lack of focus in the show's fragments that seems … well, fragmented. The audience is taken on less of a clear journey than it gets an impressionistic wave of different pieces. The pieces all play on the same theme, but it's difficult to build anticipation and momentum in a piece when the only thing the audience knows will carry through is theme. We care about the girl and sympathize with her loss, but when Chrysalis falters is when it chooses too much variety in the perspectives it presents. I really wanted to go on a journey with this girl and, from time to time, the show's construction threw me off the path.
That's why the songs were my favorite parts of the show. Their structure allowed Crittenden's strengths—her self-deprecating humor, her wit and her playfulness—to come through with the greatest amount of focus and, hence, to the greatest effect.
Chrysalis has its share of sweet, tender moments and Crittenden comes across as wholly likable. On the whole, there is an unevenness that costs the show a fluid, fulfilling journey, but there remain plenty of things to like about the show and its writer/performer.