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A CurtainUp Review
By Joe Belfatti

You're nothing without a man
— the mantra playwright performer Lois Robbins grew up with
Lois Robbins (Joan Marcus) in the off-Broadway premiere of Lois's comedic one-woman
L.O.V.E.R., the title of Lois Robbins' one-woman show, is a bit of a misnomer. While the play indeed begins with the premise of one woman's sexual awakening, it soon devolves into a cacophony of thwarted relationships and bed-hopping that dazes and confuses. Only when the narrator makes a hard right turn at marriage and family does the writing gain emotional clarity and open up into a compelling narrative of one woman's emotional journey.

At the start, Robbins reveals that she was a sexually precocious child, curious and determined to gain pleasure by pressing up against the warm, vibrating washing machine in the basement. During a comfortable upbringing on Long Island, her independent spirit was occasionally quashed by stable but controlling parents. Her father could be casually cruel. "You look ridiculous!" he tells her on the dance floor at a family party, while her mother instills the belief in her that a woman is nothing without a man. Once Robbins goes to college as a drama major, she quickly loses her virginity and decides to follow her mother's dictate by embarking on a dizzying spin-cycle of serial monogamy.

Many details of Robbins'romantic life are recounted with specificity that only experience can provide. But as the names and stories are tossed into the air, the the viewer is made to feel like a therapist being presented with 20 years of chaotic romantic history compressed into one 45 minute session. For the sake of dramatic expediency, this part of the play could be truncated, perhaps by combining or excising lovers so that the characters can register more firmly in the audience's mind. As a wise playwright once said, "God writes lousy drama."

Somewhere amidst the chaos, Robbins meets her (second) husband, settles down and starts a family. As her sex life recedes to the background, the writing snaps into focus.

A harrowing breast cancer scare is recounted with frightening clarity and we begin to feel for this woman. She talks about her daughter and how parents go from being the main characters in their children's lives to supporting players or even walk-ons. We see that family life and the full-circle quality of experience have brought her calm and stability. But this segment feels disconnected from what went before.. The serial monogamy and bed hopping of her youth seem superficial and inconsequential, as if part of a different play.

Ms. Robbins, with her Pilates-enhanced figure, is earnest and eager to please. While not quite in command of the stage, she is technically capable, physically fluid and sometimes quite funny— as when her fiance cheats on her, she refuses to name the other woman before settling on the nickname "Deborah Slutface".

A special mention must be made regarding Jo Winiarski's all-white set. It consists of a single staircase with multiple landings upon which Robbins climbs and cavorts and perches atop as if it were a playground jungle gym.. Director Karen Carpenter encourages this playful physicality.

In addition to the aforementioned staircase, there's a washing machine downstage with a basket of laundry in front, and at the back of the stage hangs a white cyclorama evoking a bed sheet or a curtain. And high above the staircase hang twinkling lamps from long cords with curious crystal shades. Are they decanters? Eu de toilette bottles? Tequila bottles? The set is a savvy Rorschach test for the play's acronymous lover.

A final soliloquy about rock climbing in Utah evocatively displays our narrator's fearlessness and tenacity along with a hard-won inner strength.  How she won that strength from an insecure yet pampered princess is not really clear. There seems to be another play within this one, perhaps one with more socioeconomic detail or broader psychosexual context to take us out of the analyst's chair and into a more cosmic view of life—or at least towards a more relatable character.

For all the talked about insecurity, Robbins has apparently had a fairly stable life, financially and as an actress. Except for a brief mention of Anti-Semitic branding among old Hollywood actors, she seems to have suffered very little except for the ordinary growing pains of modern life, particularly amidst hedonistic creative types in show biz.

Lois Robbins clearly enjoys being on stage and presenting herself and her secrets. What's not so apparent is why we should listen.

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Written and performed by Lois Robbins
Directed by Karen Carpenter
Scenic design: Jo Winiarsk
ighting design: Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew
Sound design: Jane Shaw
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Pershing Square Signature Center's Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre 480 West 42nd Street (This is not a Signature production)
From 8/21/19; opening 9/08/19; closing 11/02/19.
Tues, Thurs, Friday at 7:30pm; wed Sat, Sun at 2pm; Sat at 8pm
Reviewed by By Joe Belfatti at 9/07 press preview

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