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A CurtainUp Review

Four hundred women stare at us horrified. We are 'bad' feminists.— Phoebe Waller-Bridge .
Phoebe Waller-Bridge(Photo Credit: Joan Marcus).
. Fleabag is not a play for the easily offended. It is an extended monologue on sex, dating, pornography, masturbation, dysfunctional families, and more. Brilliantly written and performed by the British comedian Phoebe Waller-Bridge in a sensational New York debut at the Soho Playhouse), it reminds us that the solo form can really pack a dramatic punch.

The 65-minute play is about a young woman who's emotionally unhinged and trying to keep her guinea pig-themed coffee shop afloat. Her best friend and business partner Boo recently died in a traffic accident that she suspects was a veiled suicide. Her boyfriend Harry has just broken up with her—and she's now dancing on a razor's edge.

As the lights go up, we see Waller-Bridge at an interview for a clerical position, overheating and unable to calm her nerves. She lifts up her jersey to cool herself, accidently revealing her bra. In the next beat, we hear a recorded voice of the male interviewer, telling her "that won't get you very far here any more." Although she insistently defends her virtue, she can't walk back the awkward moment or alter his interpretation of it. Ironically, this male interviewer will later confess to her that he made a sexual advance toward a colleague at an office party, which ruined his reputation and the business that he painstakingly built.

Fleabag made a big splash at the 2013 Edinburgh Festival and went on to tour the UK, South Korea, and Australia. It was later adapted into the popular BBC/Amazon Prime series, which has gained a cult following and a fresh contract for a second TV season 3.

While the TV series expands the play's dramatis personae, it still doesn't hold a candle to seeing Waller-Bridge live, sitting on a tall stool at center stage (Spartan set and clean lighting by Holly Pigott and Elliot Griggs, respectively). Her facial expressions reflect a kaleidoscope of raw emotions, ricocheting through her whole being.

This.physically expressive actor. also charming, smart, outspoken—and her sensual and philosophical thoughts are cloaked in contradictions. One minute she's warmly reminiscing about the time she gave Boo a guinea pig for her birthday, and the next minute she's slyly confessing that the cranberry-colored top she's wearing was filched from her sister Claire's wardrobe. She criticizes her brother-in-law Martin for his habits of imbibing too much booze and making unwanted sexual passes at her, and yet she recounts the times she and Boo would get tipsy after closing their café, singing bawdy songs into the night.

Waller-Bridge ably writes such contradictions into her script, without attempting to explain them as they emerge and co-exist. This perfectly mirrors real life as we know it. For what human being is a tidy amalgam of emotions and behaviors? Say what you will, this theater piece soars by its weird paradoxes.

In spite of its sexually-explicit language and transgressive bent, Fleabag doesn't ride rough-shod over values. With all the coarse language and "bad girl" episodes that transpire, the woman we encounter here is on an odyssey to finding her personal identity. Though it takes a while to detect that she is being driven on by an inner truth by the time the denouement arrives, we've come to know a woman who, however bruised in spirit, has undergone a transformation and is unmistakably reaching out for hope.

This Drywrite and Soho Theatre production, under the aegis of Annapurna Theatre, and directed by Waller-Bridge's long-time collaborator Vicky Jones, is unfortunately sold-out through its six-week run. Too bad if you missed it.

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Fleabag Written and performed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Directed by Vicky Jones
Sets: Holly Pigott
Sound: Isobel Waller-Bridge
Lighting: Elliot Griggs
Stage Manager: Charlotte McBrearty
Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (between Varick St. and 6th Ave.). Tickets: Prices vary, $49 and up. Phone 212-691-1555 or online at
From 2/27/19; opening 3/07/19; closing 4/14/19
Running time: 65 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 3/4/19

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