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.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

MITF/Out of Control

Do motivational speakers enourage their listeners to overcome their addictions, or simply empty their wallets?

Review by Ilana Novick

Like a guest who overstays their welcome, the motivational speaker Peter Quick was supposed to simply to give workshops, but instead stays long enough to disrupt the relationships between the members of Overindulgers Annonymous in Out of Control by Bridget Harris. Sweetie (Kara Ross), a waitress with a guileless smile and braided hair, has an innocence that belies her lover abandoning her as a teenage mom. Her overindulgence is marijuana. Bunny (Marca Leigh), an aging bombshell with a self-professed drinking problem, longs for the sexual attention her husband is no longer interested in providing. Delores (Dorothy Frey) has a shoplifting problem. Brenda (Beverly Prentice) may or may not be a sex addict, but her predilection for eating slices of cake at a time suggests an eating disorder. Is Quick the fire under the backside that these women need to cure their bad habits, or is he a man unfairly judging women’s habits, using his authority as a speaker to mask his sexism?

The group’s meetings, with the women all sitting on black crates in a circle, forms the basis of set and of the action, with scenes alternating between the women's meetings and Quick's lectures. Only Sweetie and Brenda are seen outside of these meetings, at home and at work, which gives their characters more room to develop. The rest seem not to exist outside of the meetings, which means we only get a narrow explanation of what's behind their addictions. Dempsey is a credibly motivating (but slightly sleazy) speaker, all expressive hand gestures, mile-wide smiles, and a hard stare, and he sprouts infomercial affirmations like “tame the beast within.” He unsettlingly decries feminism for giving women too many choices, and implies that their addictions are a result of their freedom…the freedom to binge. Though there may be a grain of truth in that, the play disturbingly never questions his statement. The possibility of a debate is brushed aside in favor of catty gossip among the members. First Sweetie is lauded for her steadfast devotion to her daughter, the next she’s getting high in her laundry room and watching the home shopping network. When Delores steals from Walmart, should we laugh when she claims she’s shopping not stealing, or look down on her for stealing to make up for her feelings of being neglected by her husband?

Out of Control has potential as a satire of the self-help industry and of the ways in which women can undermine each other, even as they claim to be supportive. But it can’t decide whether to laugh at or support the quest to cure addiction, or whether Peter Quick is the tough love these women need or a charismatic con artist making money off of women’s insecurities. It also doesn't provide enough evidence of the character's lives outside of the group to answer the questions it raises.

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