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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
I See You Made an Effort
Earthiness becomes her. Gurwitch has reaped acclaim for her serious turns in such works as Murray Mednick's Joe and Betty and as a bitter immigrant in Donald Margulies's Coney Island Christmas. When she develops her own work, Gurwitch has no problem turning an unflattering biographical lens on her own foibles. In Fired, we learned about her getting unceremoniously booted out of a Woody Allen play and heard the sacking experiences of her friends and colleagues. With Effort, we now meet the author on the threshold of menopause as she is giving the middle finger to age 50. And, by God (or "Oy!" as Gurwitch might say), the lady can make us wince at and chuckle over each body blow.
Directed by Bart DeLorenzo and staged in a bare black box, Effort finds its 49-year-old protagonist scratching her head over the fact that she seems to be aging out. . . well . . . out of everything. Her 14-year-old son finds her terminally uncool; her agent is booking auditions for grandmother roles; AARP is sending her welcome literature and technology leaves her somewhere between bemused and baffled. The text messages sent by her husband are becoming more and more cryptic as he eliminates vowels (e.g. " whrs rmt cntrl?"). And the phone calls from her own eightysomething parents are getting more frequent with the senior Gurwitches &emdash; looking to move into a retirement community &emdash; sending her salt bowls and other knick-knacks.
Any undercurrent of fear over the author facing the inevitability of aging and sickness remains just that: an undercurrent. Through a clever series of projections (designed by Jason H. Thompson), Gurwitch seems trying less to unsettle us than to laugh at and see the irony of her assorted predicaments. The humor is plenty broad enough and the author/performer is not above overemphasizing or leaning into a joke until it positively screams for mercy.
But she is funny. When she accompanies her son to a an indie punk concert, Gurwitch finds herself entertaining explicit Mrs. Robinson-esque sexual fantasies over seducing Patrick Stickles, the lead singer of Titus Andronicus. As the woman in lust is "of a certain age," this is a fantasy that requires the strategic concealing of vaginal lubricant and the use of a rock-climbing wall to accommodate Gurwitch's bad knee.
She's fighting the battle of middle age tooth and nail. Gurwitch has a running gag about tilting up her chin for maximum effect and looking gorgeous only in that pose. But the truth is, Annabelle Gurwitch, who is now 53 and seriously svelte in dark slacks and a light blue button down blouse, looks a lot more put together than what pop culture propaganda believes 50-year-olds look like. Maybe those granny roles can wait a bit, yet.
Clocking in at a not-very brisk 70 minutes, Effort does not feel like a back-breaker of a workout on its star. The otherwise bare stage has a chair which Gurwitch never uses, but the actress is not roaming or pacing. Occasionally she will go to the back wall to do a bit with one of the projections, and there is a slightly queasy segment toward the end when she finds herself bouncing on a trampoline.
There remains a glimmer of, if not hope exactly, perhaps acceptance at the end of Gurwitch's dark night of the Quinquagenarian soul. She may have to get knocked off that trampoline to see it, but she'll pick herself up, dust off her dignity, and make sure we're laughing at a fate which is, alas, quite universal.