Reviewed by Amy Freeman
Eileen, a bubbly young woman, is late for her bus. As it turns out, she is late for the wrong bus. So begins Leaving Normal, a trip through the soul of an creative yet crushed woman. Melissa McNamara plays Eileen and three other personas throughout the piece: an elderly bus driver, an older waitress, and Eileen as a child. When McNamara is portraying the three other characters, the piece seems as though it may be going somewhere. However, when she snaps back into playing Eileen, the piece screeches to a halt. Eileen is too much of a stereotype, the cutesy-neurotic twentysomething who worries about getting fat yet eats Twizzlers and cookies, who seeks the perfect man at a McDonald's, and wonders why others won't respond to her in such a cheery manner. Eileen seems to be an afterthought, although she's the focus of the show.
McNamara is a great performer. She possesses a great sense of physicality and uses it to the show's advantage. At one point she climbs completely into her suitcase, and at another lies on her back, slowly turning herself around, pretending to be a broken music box dancer. She bounds up and down the risers, constantly interacting with her audience. Each character is clearly delineated by physical characteristics, the old bus driver's right hand shakes, the waitress walks with the pronounced limp of someone who has stood at an unforgiving job for too long. While the story is occasionally hard to follow, McNamara is engaging enough that it doesn't matter.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.