The crying game

My Life in the Trenches

Written and performed by Jill Dalton
Creative consultant: Joan Cappello
Midtown International Theatre Festival
Raw Space Theatre M
529 W. 42nd St. (279-4200/
Equity showcase (closes Aug. 1)
Review by John Chatterton

What saves Jill Dalton's one-woman show My Life in the Trenches from bathos is her dry sense of humor. Despite the horror stories of a rigid father, alcoholic mother, and indolent husband, she manages to find jokes among the pieces of shrapnel. Many of the jokes are on herself, like the opening scene in which she welcomes a tour group from Wisconsin to a performance of The King and I -- wearing a hat shaped like a wedge of cheese. (She beat out dozens of other actresses for the job.)

The driest joker of all in the piece is Dalton's shrink, Dr. Rubin, who punctuates his witticisms with the comment, "That'll be $95." (He also says, "Your mind is like a bad neighborhood. You shouldn't go there alone.") Other characters include the aforementioned family members, all clearly delineated in vocal and physical mannerism. Perhaps her least gentle self-satire has as its subject her mother's lung cancer, in which superior Jill tries to get her mother (an alcoholic and former heavy smoker) to drink bancha tea and visualize her white cells conquering the disease. Or maybe her joining the club of ex-wives (in an appropriately green pillbox hat) who go to weddings to sneer at the brides and other wives, commenting expertly on their recent plastic surgeries.

Dalton takes the audience on a journey from life as an Army brat, through being a child of the '60s, through marriage to a man who decides to dump her when it is his turn to support her, as she did through college and his early non-earning years. The images, while often not attractive, had the ring of truth.

The sound design (engineered by Tom McGrath) provided a multitude of complementary effects and voice-overs. The corresponding lighting effects, using many features of the available rep. plot, would have been equally effective if the lights had been focused properly; some scenes took place out of their intended light. Dalton made good use of the stage, equipped only with a coatrack carrying some costumes and a black cube or two. The transitions could have used more patter or business.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 John Chatterton