My Life in the Trenches

Written and performed by Jill Dalton
Directed by Jack McCullough
Midtown International Theatre Festival/Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex Stage II
312 West 36th Street (212/279-4200;;
Equity showcase (closes Aug. 2)
Review by Jenny Sandman

Raised an Army brat by her colonel father and Quaker mother (a star-crossed union, to be sure), Jill Dalton spent her formative years on each of the South's finest military bases, from Louisiana to Georgia to South Carolina. Growing up in the '50s and '60s, she came of age just as her father was shipped off to Vietnam, virtually ensuring that she would become a hippie and that they would have a strained relationship, to say the least. As if her politics weren't enough to earn her family's censure, she decides to become an actress and move to New York.

But marriage, housewifery, her husband's education, and a series of jobs intervene, and although she makes it to New York, it is a long time before she can call herself an actress. Meanwhile, her parents are having tempestuous lives of their own; they both struggle with alcoholism, her mother has two nervous breakdowns, and her mother and father don't speak to each other for a year on at least one occasion.

Dalton reenacted her life with panache and vigor, and it was an interesting story. But the show was still rough around the edges, and lacking in sparkle. Occasionally Dalton seemed unsure of her blocking or of which prop to use when. It was more a long chatty stand-up routine than a one-woman play. Dalton impersonated other characters, but they didn't become part of the show in the way that her own experiences did. Nevertheless, the show built -- the second half was more touching and more deeply felt, especially during the deaths of her parents.

My Life in the Trenches is ultimately a paean to Dalton's father; though they never have a loving relationship, Jill inherits his inner strength and determination, which enable her to survive a series of tragedies that would have crushed a weaker person.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2003 Jenny Sandman