During the introduction, an indignant head popped through the curtain to deny a cheeky allegation before disappearing again, only to reappear momentarily as the star of her one-woman show. It was a fitting first impression of an informal, intelligent, and humorous force of nature called Cyndi Freeman.
There is a common fallacy among solo performers that their own lives are the perfect material for observations about the human condition. While Freeman has allegedly based much of her material on her own experiences, she and co-writer Ellen Groves have wisely woven them into a partly fictionalized storyline tracing the bizarre and sporadic relationship between two performers at opposite ends of the show-business hierarchy. Divided into four parts (in LA, Boston, New York, and London), the piece has two narrative strands: the life of a struggling solo performer (which draws unashamedly on Freeman’s own career, down to describing the theatre the audience is in) and her bizarre stop-start relationship with hunky movie star "Dash Riprock," whom she meets while working as an extra in one of his blockbuster vehicles. The eccentric showbiz love story complements the amusing but more clichéd tales from a struggling actress -- the dismal apartments, humiliating jobs, and itinerant lifestyle.
The production boasted a minimal set (a mattress, a bench, and a chair) and effective but limited lighting effects by Robbie Gray. Given this spare background, the show depended totally on the performer, and Freeman carried it off with aplomb. Savvy and elegant in a series of sexy, figure-hugging dresses, Freeman's stage persona was driven to exuberant outbursts or comic paralysis when faced with strong emotions. This was a one-woman battle between intellect and emotions, between morality and desire, and between her romantic and analytical tendencies. These conflicting instincts were hilariously dramatized in a series of imaginary characters whom she claimed to see at key moments: the chorus line of ex-students (heavily made up adolescents who repeated back her lessons in morality) and two alter egos, one an impatient 90-year-old woman urging her to take a chance and the other a hilarious twist on Shakespeare’s Juliet, an annoyingly naïve and righteous teenager.
Freeman’s wry intelligence, astute observation, and cheeky satire also color her portrayals of other characters. Through a series of phone calls and meetings, she created a Dash Riprock who was all too recognizable: intense, attentive, and sensitive but also emotionally unstable, self-involved, and totally lacking in humor. This last characteristic was shared by the other male lover, a superbly rendered British actor whose flimsy veneer of bonhomie was scratched to reveal the rock-solid narcissism underneath. Other fleeting cameos included a vague, affable British director and a star-struck LA hotel concierge.
It was a demanding ride; there were a few repetitive moments in the writing and staging, but overall Freeman demonstrated both vocal versatility and a strong physical presence, moving from the tension of repressed desire to expansive outbursts in which her long arms and legs sailed through the small room, as if defying the mundane reality of gravity. On leaving the theatre, the lasting impression was of a woman with more thoughts, emotions, and energy than is strictly advisable for a balanced outlook; but then, balance is not what this show is about. I Kissed Dash Riprock is a glorious celebration of the overactive mind, an ode to the absurdity of human interactions, and a reminder that there can be beauty in emotional chaos and uncertainty. In theatre as in life, sometimes more is more.
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Copyright 2002 Miranda Lundskaer-Nielsen