Standing Up: Bathroom Talk & Other Stuff We Learn From Dad
nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
August 23, 2010
Standing Up: Bathroom Talk & Other Stuff We Learn From Dad, a one-woman show written and performed by Tracey Conyer Lee, begins with an unnamed woman walking into a house bathed in soft yellow light, giving it the sepia-toned hue of a distant memory. In the back of the room is a massive wood counter covered in bottles of alcohol. From the way the bottles of alcohol are scattered about, it's safe to assume this makeshift bar plays a large part in the daily routine of this household.
The woman calls for her father and finds him asleep on the couch. I assume it's a couch because both it and her father remain unseen throughout the show. She comes to tell him that her grandmother—his mother—is on her deathbed and would like to speak with him before she dies. He pretends to sleep but she speaks to him regardless: partly because she's trying to convince him to wake up but mostly because given the seriousness of the situation she has a lot to get off her chest. I found it fitting that we never see the father because she's not confronting the man himself but the emotional legacy he's left her.
The process takes place in two distinct settings: the aforementioned living room and the club in which the woman performs stand-up. The routines are funny, audacious, vivid, and crude. They deal with topics such as dating below your age bracket (though you wouldn't know by looking, Lee plays a woman in her mid- to late-30s); the dwindling value of words in a culture obsessed with cliches and text messaging ("We don't write 'cause we can't speak!" she states to much laughter); her horrible job at a Cajun restaurant and the lying boss who runs it; and—the greatest story of the evening—a college road trip with neglectful companions with a painfully embarrassing rush to find a bathroom in a train station.
Lee's script crackles with wit and insight. As a performer, she skillfully navigates both worlds, imbuing each with a distinct tone that never falters. She and director Kevin R. Free's greatest feat comes in the subtlety with which they blend these two seemingly disparate locations. At first, I had a difficult time understanding how the stylishly aggressive stand-up routines connected with the intimate conversation being conducted with her father. By the end of the show, though, I came to appreciate that the two had been a step ahead of me the entire time.
There are several themes at the heart of Standing Up but the two that stood out most were the effects that communication—and lack of it—have on our behavior and the strange behavioral mechanisms we adopt as a result of absolute neglect. Lee's character's stand-up routines effectively illustrate the ways we can translate life's inevitable pain into more palatable forms, while the more intimate scenes conversing with her father acknowledge that the pain still has to be dealt with. The result—which feels slightly longer than its 80-minute running time—is a funny play that provides great insight into the business of survival.