Kelly Kinsella Live! Under Broadway
nytheatre.com review by Ross Chappell
August 10, 2007
While the real-life Kelly Kinsella does indeed work as a dresser on Broadway, the Kelly Kinsella of this one-woman show is a dresser on the make-believe, ill-conceived Broadway musical, "Suddenly Sudan," starring Liza Minnelli and Jeff Goldblum (as Jeff Goldblum). Kinsella transitions fluidly from character to character, including Minnelli and Goldblum, as she takes the audience on a journey through the insanities of her day, her job, and her life.
Kinsella begins as her half-drunk mother talking on the phone to Kelly. She's loud, opinionated, and hysterical. Nearly falling out of her chair as she tries to get a few more drops of wine from the box, she declares to Kelly, "Oh! Mommy drank this whole box of wine by herself. I'm gonna need another box." It's a bit silly, but Kinsella pulls it off beautifully. Both her writing and her delivery present the all-too-recognizable idiosyncrasies of a mom.
Kinsella then moves through the characters that surround her: the young nephew who insists that "Aunt Kelly... shouldn't be left alone with children," the oppressively and overtly sexual stagehand who constantly makes crude comments, the bitter and off-center wardrobe supervisor, a self-absorbed chorus girl, a zany over-involved neighbor. The only time we see Kinsella as herself is via an enormous upstage projection. Video interludes divide the scenes from one another and show Kinsella procrastinating leaving her apartment, riding her bike to work, even having a meltdown as she runs away from the theatre then settles down and runs back. The videos are close-ups of Kinsella's face, and the segments capture the over-the-top nature of New York life perfectly. During her real-time bike ride, she switches seamlessly from talking to the audience to screaming at some guy to get out of the bike lane. Kinsella is exceptional at pulling off multiple characters effectively during the show.
While Kinsella is an accomplished performer, she is occasionally miscast in this show. For a couple of the characters, Kinsella's dialect wobbles and the characterizations are so over-the-top they feel more like caricatures, more like a stand-up comedian mimicking someone. All that disappears near the end of the show when Kinsella gives us a brilliantly real and honest performance as the child actor of "Suddenly Sudan" (a painfully funny satirizing of Broadway musicals and of washed-up celebrities). While she's still funny, she is also surprisingly moving and captures the child's rapidly vanishing innocence flawlessly. Kinsella's writing, however, is outstanding throughout. It is consistently funny and does an excellent job of showing both the humor and the pain of real life. Each of the characters she has created is vital to the show.
Antonio Merenda's direction is impressively well-paced for a show this bombastic. He keeps it moving without letting it feel like a runaway train. Also, his staging uses the entirety of the large space well and avoids the pitfall of letting the lone actor seem lost in the space. The design elements are a bit spare, but effective overall. Part of the problem is the size of the space [The New School for Drama Theater]. The videos, however, are indispensable, and it would be a shame to see them shrunk down for a smaller space.
While not every show can sustain a longer run, I would love to see this again after Kinsella performed the piece a few dozen times. She gives the distinct impression of an actor who would shake up her performance and deliver something fresh and new as the performances progressed. She certainly has solid material with which to work.