Sunday, June 19, 2011

REVIEW: How Did I Get Here?

Laura Levites, a charming redhead with a penchant for stepping into bad relationships takes us on a tour of the low-lights of said relationships in this brisk and funny one-woman show. Unfortunate inconsistencies and superficial moments detract from what could otherwise be a very good piece of theatre.

This is such a conversational piece, it requires no artificiality to convey.  The worst moments are the "actor" moments, moments where Levites falls prey to the great sin of acting, indication.  Theatre is about revealing, not showing off, and Levites has written a piece that lends itself to revelation.  Just speak the words, let them move you, and don't feel the need to "sell" anything with superficial actorly gestures.  Plant your feet, face the audience, and speak.  It's a storytelling piece, so she needn't do more than just tell the story; it's interesting enough that the "acting" detracts from her tale.

Either have props or don't.  Either interact with prerecorded voices or don't.  Pick a direction and deal with the complications that ensue from making a specific choice.  It will make for a more powerful piece.

The frustrating thing about How Did I Get Here? are the moments where Levites shines through. Levites is a vibrant, funny woman; charming and powerful on stage when she drops the artifice and just talks to us. It is frustrating to know that the piece could be that much better, if only. Levites needs a director or collaborator who will force her into the dark corners that she otherwise peeks into. Maybe "force her into" isn't the right expression -- "gently take her hand and help her explore."  There are genuine moments of laugh-out-loud funny in this piece. There is very little genuine pathos, and that is a great shame.

There are a couple of missing story beats, and the first is a doozy: Why does she need a loving relationship? What are the stakes? As it stands, the piece is merely items in a series; a string of funny anecdotes that don't really add up to anything. This is emphasized by a grating refrain after each vignette:  "And again, I'm having a moment. How did I get here?"  The line needs to be earned -- or scrapped.

The other story beat concerns her dog, Pagan. Not to go too much into it -- there is a potential spoiler here -- but we need more with the dog. We should see the dog, really get the dog before she heads into the end of the play.  It would make for a bigger emotional pay-off.

The writing could be tightened up.  There are scenes in the play where Levites interacts with invisible characters from her past, either in person or via cell phone.  We see the entire conversation in some of these scenes, including the non-informative "hey whatcha doin'" parts.  In other conversations she cuts to the chase.  Economy of words would make the piece stronger.  These scenes where she acts out her past seem like they were written as an afterthought; maybe the thought was that the show needed more opportunity for acting.

Watching this piece is not an unpleasant experience.  If you're doing the Fringe rounds and you have the hour to take in Levites' show, you should.  But given a little more time and effort, How Did I Get Here? could be a good piece of theatre, one that we could recommend without reservations.  We hope that Levites continues to work on the piece, to shape it and refine it.

How Did I Get Here? plays at The Complex Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., in Hollywood on June 20th, at 9:30 pm. Tickets are $10, and may be purchased at the box office. For more information, visit the Hollywood Fringe project page for this production.

Reviewed by Andrew and Pamela Moore.

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