Bonnie Parker: A Vicious Circle
If there's one word that would not aptly describe Bonnie Parker, it would be "dull." Married at sixteen, abandoned not long after, she started a life of crime that led her to the notorious Clyde Barrow and his Barrow Gang, traveling around the country in that famous Ford, robbing and killing and ultimately dying in a hail of bullets at the age of 23. So, no, "dull" could never describe Miss Parker.
It could, however, describe Dixie Lee Sedgwick's eponymous one-woman play about the criminal. Overlong and painfully repetitive, the play barely delves into the fascinating character of Bonnie, focusing instead on insignificant details and assorted trivia. Did you know that Bonnie & Clyde had a little white dog named Snowball? Does this newfound knowledge change your perception of either Bonnie or Clyde? Does it reveal anything more about Bonnie as an individual, or as part of the Barrow Gang? If trivia does not reveal character, it just becomes a waste of time, and feels more pedantic than dramatic. The strongest insights into the true character come from recitations of Parker's actual poetry, which reveal both intelligence, wit, and some clear-eyed intensity. Unfortunately, even these moments lose their steam under Joseph R. Black's overdone direction.
Even though Bonnie is most famous as half of a notorious duo and a member of an infamous Gang, Ms. Sedgwick has her alone onstage throughout the entire play. This could be a great chance to see what thoughts go through Bonnie's head in the rare moments when she's alone... but instead, Ms. Sedgwick has her perpetually addressing some invisible person, giving us half of a conversation. It's weak and dramatically awkward, especially in the few moments when we actually hear a few (pre-recorded) words from the other person. Had the play been presented as a memory rather than as individual scenes, it would have a stronger dramatic arc, and would have allowed us to get a full story out of the legend.
Ms. Sedgwick's performance is somewhat more interesting than her script, although she seems to have only three expressions for Bonnie: lovestruck, tough, and pained. She shows promise, however, and would probably be much stronger playing off another actor. Joseph R. Black's direction is slow and overly deliberate, largely destroying any intensity that the equally slow script might have managed to build. Shannon N. Short and Diane Simons' costumes are accurate and quite attractive, and their recreation of Bonnie's dress in a famous photograph (right) is particularly memorable. Occasionally, attention to detail does pay off nicely.
Ms. Sedgwick clearly did some very intensive research into Bonnie Parker's life, but when put to the stage, it feels as flat as the photographs of the famous duo projected on the back wall.
Bonnie Parker runs until May 30th at the John Houseman Studio Theatre. Call 212.868.4444 for tickets.