BWW Review: WHORE at Paradise Factory - A sketchy scrapbook of uncomfortable memories
When taking a seat in the Paradise Factory Theatre downtown, the stage backdrop suggests a large scrapbooking canvas. Pictures of children and the wilderness. Happy, peaceful images. They are layered and have texture. Some of the edges are uneven around the borders reminiscent of photographs from long ago. Boldly titled in capital letters, WHORE will be heading down the path of memoir told with the passage of time.
Suzanne Tufan is the writer, performer and producer of this piece, her first full length play. The story is one woman's journey of survival and transformation. From the age of five until adulthood, Ms. Tufan is chronicling a history scarred by an overbearing father. He is portrayed as a conservative man who is deeply into astrology and meditation. The wearing of lipstick (and other infractions) seemingly connotate WHORE in his mind.
That oppression is the fundamental conflict pursued in this therapeutic exercise of analysis, healing and creative expression. The tone is an odd yet interesting combination of gleefully childlike and bitterly hardened. As an actress, she learns to use music and dance for creative expression. That outlet is also employed here in her original songs and expressive movements.
Unfortunately the story feels very sketchily drawn. Intentionally shocking blurbs like discovering masturbation at seven years old are hurled before quickly moving on. At nine, she begins to have fantasies about boys peeing on her. A throwaway comment or thematic revelation? I thought about that line longer than the play did. Relationships which obviously have had some major impact are discussed but not explored in any depth whatsoever. As a result, the play seems like an outline rather than a multi-layered scrapbook.
Lindsey Hope Pearlman's direction efficiently moves this story along and, critically, gives the material some gravitas. Ms. Tufan is a tremendously winning stage presence. There simply is no storytelling beneath the headlines written and performance indulgences.
Did her father believe she was a whore? Was he puritanical or just mean? Did her mind create this drama from a guilty conscience? Is this personal story meant to shine a light on society as a whole? An astrological wheel chart is repeatedly consulted, illuminating nothing. Which are the five most important moments? Why not explore them for more than a nanosecond?
If you can imagine it (or understand the reference), Whore feels like The Donna Reed Show updated into the present. There is a lot more sexual frankness and sharing for sure. The main character just smiles throughout and keeps us far away from seeing a lifelike person. While that may have been a stylistic choice, it separates the actor and the audience rather than connecting them spiritually. In a theatrical monologue which aims for richly revealing, we instead see a talented actress shoehorning her skills into an ineffectively told memoir.