Eleanor alla Barre
nytheatre.com review by Kiran Rikhye
August 11, 2006
The press release for Eleanor alla Barre explains that Eleanor D'Olivia—charmingly portrayed by Sara Buffamanti (also the show's writer)—is "a forgotten imaginary friend...last seen by her real-life companion during a ballet class." Emerging from a box labeled "Emily's Stuff 1984" like a rag doll with a hangover, Eleanor brings with her a series of artifacts that will bring a smile to the face of anyone who once was or once knew a preschooler in the early 1980s. She spends the remainder of the show playing with (and/or breaking) these artifacts, singing opera arias, dancing, chattering in Italian, and generally wreaking playful havoc. She also seems periodically to look for her missing real-life friend (presumably the "Emily" who stuck her in a box back in 1984), though I doubt I would have understood this without the press materials to inform me.
Eleanor alla Barre is a charming show based on a delightful premise, but it sometimes seems as though no logic is guiding its protagonist's actions. She jumps from one activity to the next without any apparent motivation, and one can't help but feel that everything Eleanor does is guided, not by her own thoughts or desires, but by her need to accomplish all the tasks the show's creators have assigned her to accomplish in the allotted time.
Eleanor's relationship to the audience suffers from a similar problem. Early in the show, Eleanor emerges from her box, explores the world around her, and—all of a sudden!—notices that she has an audience. It's a terrific opportunity for this adventurous little clown to interact with the strangers who are watching her, which she does for a minute or two. But only moments later she seems to have forgotten us, and she goes about her business as though she had never seen us in the first place. When she inexplicably remembers us again, she has some winning interactions with several audience members, but it is difficult to understand what draws Eleanor's attention and what distracts her; I couldn't help but feel that the show could have used fewer ideas for comic "bits" and more attention to what motivates its adorable protagonist. Like so many clowns, Buffamanti is at her strongest when she is sharing joy, making mischief, or displaying her ingenuity. The problem here is simply that too many opportunities for joy, mischief, and ingenuity are missed or prematurely abandoned.
Nevertheless, it is a pleasure to see Buffamanti explore the playground of sights, sounds, and even smells that she and director Rebecca Lingafelter have created out of a mundane assortment of props and toys. Especially delightful are the uses of food and drink: over the course of the show Eleanor makes (and consumes) fresh lemonade, a massive bowl of Cheerios with milk and banana, and even microwavable popcorn. It is a feast for the eyes, ears, and nose (for anyone who doubts that Cheerios have a distinctive smell, this show will convince you that they do) that is both unique and inventive. If you ever had an imaginary friend, or even if you just enjoy a bit of mischief, this charming show is well worth a visit.