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A CurtainUp Review
Live Girls

So why do you do what you do?— Sarah
Because I'm an exhibitionist. Why do you do what you do? — Sonia
I'd rather be someone else.—Sarah
What's wrong with being you?— Sonia

Pamela Hunt as  Sarah Brown in Live Girls
Pamela Hunt as Sarah Brown in Live Girls (Photo: Urban Stages)
The why do you do what you do exchange quoted above is from the interviews that are the running leitmotif of Victoria Stewart's tantalizing new play, Live Girls. Sarah Brown (Pamela Hart) is a well-known, highly politicized African-American performance artist whose multi-character social dramas are scripted from interviews with people willing to reveal their personal stories for her to use as she sees fit. Sonia Ridge (Suli Holum), is an attractive, sexy blonde in her late twenties whose career as a porn film star makes her an ideal subject for Sarah's latest project about social injustice.

The fact that Sonia is a Lesbian heightens the injustice aspect for Sarah's project. To add a piquant subtext, Sarah is also a Lesbian (actually a more committed one than Sonia). To round out the cast of characters, there's Sarah's assistant Allison (Jenny Maguire), a bespectacled acolyte who has taken a year off from her doctorate on "the Lacanian theory in truth-based performance " to work for Sarah.

Ms. Stewart has written three rich roles which Hart, Holum and Maguire dig into with everything they've got. The description of the play as being about an Anna Deveare Smith-like character points to Sarah as the magnet to draw audiences. And, while the tall and imposing Hart looks nothing like that most famous and admired practitioner of this brand of issue exploring fact-based theater, Deveare Smith (e.g.: Fires in the Mirror and the Pulitzer-Prize runner-up,Twilight: Los Angeles) is indeed the obvious role model for this pivotal character. However, Stewart's take on her and her oeuvre is a departure from the usually unqualified admiration heaped on her.

To make Live Girls still livelier, the porn star and the efficient and self-effacing assistant also don't fit into any standard molds. Consequently we have a triple threat story about, not one, but three fascinating women that at times risks collapsing under the weight of its overload of ideas.

Sonia on being questioned about how and why she became a porn actress, relates how she was orphaned as a young child and her arrests during her cage dancing days. But she turns out to be a square peg in the round hole of the injustice theme Sarah is exploring. The aunt and uncle who raise her after her father kills her mother aren't characters out of a modern Grimm Brother fairy tale. Her recollections about being arrested don't have a tinge of police brutality victimhood; neither does her acting out heterosexual scenes for the pleasure of men offend her Lesbian sensibility. She's smart (her resume includes an almost completed college education) and does what she does because she's good at it, because it pays incredibly well and because, as Holum's vivid depiction illustrates, there's a strong streak of the exhibitionist in her.

Allison, perhaps the most stereotypical of these three women, nevertheless adds something new to the All About Eve type, bringing her own agenda to the table. She outlasts her predecessors and manages to deal with her gofer chores as well as the emotional wreckage that often marks the conclusion of these interviews. Her last scene with Sarah is a savvy twist on Donald Margulies' Collected Stories.

With Lou Jacob at the helm there's nothing jumpy or awkward about the shifts between the hotel room where the interviews are conducted and scenes in which Sarah metamorphoses into the character forged from her meetings with Sonia. The hostility that overhangs the interviews and the move into more personal territory is also handled effectively and convincingly. And the final plot twist is a doozy.

This is a small black box theater with fewer than a hundred seats so nothing moves or lets off smoke in John McDermott's set but it serves the play admirably, as does the work of the other designers. At $20 a ticket, this is beer budget fare -- but a high quality beer.

Playwright: Victoria Stewart
Director: Lou Jacob
Cast: Pamela Hart (Sarah Brown), Suli Holum (Sonia Ridge) Jenny Maguire (Allison), Joe Medina (Male Voice).
Sets: John McDermott
Costumes: Amelia Baksic
Lights: Josh Bradford
Original Music &Sound: Lindsay Jones
Running Time: 90 minutes without an intermission
Urban Stages Theatre, 259 West 30th Street (7/8 Aves),212-868-444
From October 23 to November 26, 2006; opening October 25
Sun to Wed, 8pm; Wed matinee November 1st, 8th, 15th at 3pm.
Open seating
Tickets: $20
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on October 25th performance

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