Ex-girlfriend strikes back

Theater Review

October 19, 2002|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

11 Ex-Boyfriends Defend Their Actions. Ya gotta love the title. Unless, of course, you're one of the exes.

And Karen Gray's one-woman show at the Theatre Project certainly does rake a bunch of former beaus over the coals. There's the artist she calls "the breastmeister," and the philandering state senator, and the rock musician/anthropology major/"respected alcoholic," and on and on.

But despite its title, Gray's show isn't merely an exercise in boyfriend-bashing. It also offers a philosophy of life for the middle-aged single woman. "Why should I look back and say, `Zero for 11'? A man wouldn't," the performer concludes with newfound self-respect.

Gray's semi-autobiographical character gains this self-respect in a mostly well-structured show whose leitmotif is the game of musical chairs. She makes her entrance to a bouncy recording of "Pop Goes the Weasel" and proceeds to circle the four brightly colored straight-backed chairs and two small tables that surround the set's central piece of furniture, which is, not surprisingly, a bed.

Musical chairs, she explains, is a game she's always hated, a game that sends a completely misguided lesson about life: "Don't think, just grab something - anything." For most of the evening, she recounts her experiences doing just that.

Dressed in a maroon velvet pants outfit and stylishly narrow eyeglasses, she uses minimal props - primarily hats - to transform herself into her various exes, and even two of their mothers. Mostly, however, Gray relies on her versatile voice and an extensive vocabulary of body language.

Adopting syrupy British inflections, she becomes Boyfriend No. 2, the rock musician. "You couldn't rattle No. 2. He was already insane," she says of this proud member of a band called Prom Vomit. A gruff Southern accent, military bearing, a crop and campaign hat define No. 5, who behaved like a drill sergeant when it came to instructing her in the finer points of certain bedroom practices.

Boyfriend No. 9, the state senator, takes the form of a series of pleading phone messages. Nos. 7 and 8 refuse to participate and are represented by one of the show's two singing telegrams.

Nor is Gray content to present characters one at a time. Sometimes they interact; at one point, she portrays both sides of a fight.

As directed by Clair Myers, Gray - who is based in Harrisburg, Pa. - exhibits unbounded pep and a born performer's lack of inhibitions. Not only is she unafraid to appear goofy, she revels in goofiness, whether gawkily dancing atop a table or singing a telegram in a squeaky Munchkin voice. Although the first act tends to ramble, the non-linear script, which Gray also wrote, ties things up neatly in the second.

When she encounters her first boyfriend after an interval of 18 years, he says her problem was that she was "always being too much." Clearly, she still is. But she's channeled that energy into an art form that's not merely amusing, but also expresses a strong point of view.

By the end of 11 Ex-Boyfriends, Gray's character feels secure enough about who she is to stop suppressing her personality to win men. Instead, she's going to just be herself. Whether or not this strategy will win her boyfriend No. 12, it wins over the audience.

Performance

What: "11 Ex-Boyfriends Defend Their Actions"

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through Oct. 27

Tickets: $15

Call: 410-752-8558

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