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Girl in Argentine Landscape

nytheatre.com review by Amy Lee Pearsall
August 14, 2012

There is an age-old adage that states, “Wherever you go, there you are.” This theory holds true in Girl in Argentine Landscape, a 45-minute autobiographical coming-of-age tale written and performed by Naomi Grossman at the New York International Fringe Festival.

While we occasionally get the flavor of additional characters in Grossman’s piece, this story belongs to Naomi: a 17-year-old Type-A personality obsessed with sex and beef, not necessarily in that order. Bored with a home life that more closely resembles an Ivy League prep course than it does a family – and having exhausted her extracurricular options at her high school in northern New Mexico – she signs on to be a foreign exchange student in the exotic land of Argentina.

Naomi lands squarely in the center of a host family of gynecologists – fitting, as she seems to have a one-track mind and a raging case of hormones. Aside from losing her virginity, Naomi has a short bucket list of things to accomplish during her year south of the equator; surprisingly, neither tango nor Buenos Aires fit in anywhere. Instead, she literally journeys to the ends of the earth – in this case, Patagonia – in an attempt to find herself, and when she gets there, it reminds her of the home and self that she’s been trying to escape.

Grossman, with an elastic face, pushes for the comedy, resulting in few laughs. As directed by Richard Embardo, Grossman blasts through the script at a record pace with little emotional connection to the piece, resulting in a performance that feels as though she is on autopilot. I was grateful for an unscripted moment where she broke the fourth wall, offering an audience member a sip of yerba mate tea. When the audience member complained that it needed honey, Grossman hilariously retorted, “Well, with only 15 minutes for load in…”

Perhaps it was this concern for the time constraints of FringeNYC that resulted in the breakneck pace of Grossman’s performance. Sitting in the middle of the house, I lost entire sentences due to her speed, though a need for improved vocal projection and enunciation were also contributing factors. Ironically, the element of time and slowing down is a recurrent theme in her piece; she even talks about the freedom found in removing her watch. I could not help but think that perhaps Grossman could take a lesson from her alter ego.

In terms of stage design, Grossman surrounds herself not with landscape, but with five easels in an upstage semi-circle, four of which display reproductions of works by Dalí, O’Keeffe, Picasso, and Van Gogh. The fifth holds the bucket list in progress. She refers to the collection as “the museum of her mind” and occasionally references them, but as Naomi doesn’t seem to be an art student, a docent, or even particularly an enthusiast, their presence feels more like arbitrary set dressing than a vital addition to the piece.

In terms of costume, Grossman removes a bookish blue nehru jacket over a plaid skirt to reveal a strappy black tank and a pair of slacks underneath. When channeling Naomi’s frisky, sassy alter ego nicknamed Carmen Mercedes, Grossman does so with the aid of an unattractive wig. Sound designers Kelley Rodgers and George Calfa provide some texture with whistling wind, and contribute to an uncomfortable one-minute break in the action where Grossman pensively strolls around the stage, stroking the Carmen Mercedes wig to an Indigo Girls soundtrack.

To be fair, perhaps I, like the young Naomi standing in the middle of Patagonia, came to Girl in Argentine Landscape looking for something else, something meatier. As a native New Mexican, I had brought a native Argentinean as my theatre companion, and the land to which we journeyed with Grossman did not particularly feel as though it was of either place. With some additional tinkering and, perhaps, Grossman allowing herself the time to explore and emotionally connect to her material, this could be a landscape worth revisiting.