My Life of Crime
nytheatre.com review by J Jordan
February 25, 2010
Stephanie Stephenson plays a number of characters in her one-woman show My Life of Crime. She plays herself, an eight-year-old gum thief; she plays her mother, brother, and grandmother; she plays her mother's various boyfriends and husbands; and she channels Jesus Christ. The news anchor Jim Lehrer also makes a showing. That's a lot of people, but, hey, there's a lot of ground to cover.
My Life of Crime isn't really about crime. It's about growing up in a dysfunctional family with no father figure, a grandma who can't help but point out your deficiencies, and a brother who's rather cocky at any age (and apparently also the sound designer for this show). The stories are all ones we've heard before; what makes them unique is the person who's telling them and why she's sharing these stories with us in the first place.
Stephenson is engaging and clearly trained at her craft. She's also a decent writer who is able to clearly communicate her feelings about the things in life that have affected her, inspired her, and made her the closet bin-keeper she is today. Oh, did I forget to mention the bins? The stage, and Stephenson's life, is full of them. Some are filled with packs of gum she stole as a child. Some are filled with papers she graded when she was a kindergarten teacher, whose creators are now in their teens. Clearly, it's time for Stephenson to clean out those bins and move on, but, as you might guess, she can't.
Thankfully, she sort of has Jesus to help her out. And Jim Lehrer. This may sound odd, and it is, but those are the two father figures she chooses to fill the void her father left and that none of her mom's weirdo boyfriends can or even try to fill. The only thing that gets filled are those bins. Whether their contents ever get rightfully liberated hinges on Stephenson's ability to move away from her past...and perhaps she will, with a little help from Mr. Lehrer (Jesus doesn't really seem to end up cutting the mustard).
The director for the piece, Mary Joan Negro, applies clean design and imbibes her actor with intention. That said, there are anecdotes and tangents that don't always makes sense to the audience but clearly form a congruent transition for the character even if it isn't obvious to the audience. In short, I got what was on the surface, but I wanted to dig deeper, into Stephenson's story—and into her bins.
Nevertheless, the elements of the show add up. The lighting design by Randi Rivera is subtle and easygoing, just as it should be, allowing the action to flow without overly-punctuating it. The sound is fun, and, dare I say it, witty. The choices are appropriate, accurate, and poignant, engaging us just at the right moment. Dredging up the Jim Lehrer sound bites must have been fun.
The set design, although not attributed to anyone, is pretty cool. I am a big fan of the less-is-more theory, and it works out well here, mostly. I say mostly because even though the set consists of our actor and a bunch of bins, which is amazing and brilliant and so much fun, it was obvious to me that there wasn't actually anything in any of the bins. Somehow there is this odd way of being able to tell that a container is empty, and that certainly seemed true here. When there is something hidden deep inside, the reveal, and the letting go, is so much sweeter—sweeter, even, than the satisfaction of chewing Stephenson's stolen cinnamon gum.