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A CurtainUp Review
Mary-Kate Olsen Is In Love
By Jacob Horn
Her unemployed husband Tyler (Alex Grubbs) isn't interested in doing anything besides playing video games. And Grace herself comes home every day wanting to do little more than fall asleep watching TV. But one night, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen (Christine Lee and Kana Hatakeyama) show up in Grace's dreams, spawning myriad questions. Should she leave Tyler? Has she gone insane? What does she want out of life?
The unusual setup for Mallery Avidon's Mary-Kate Olsen Is In Love, directed by Kristan Seemel at The Flea, is a novel one. As stories about angsty millenials abound, it's refreshing to encounter an innovative take on the idea — this is Girls after a double shot of surrealism. Much of the play is clever, well-timed, and even thought-provoking. Yet it becomes increasingly jumbled and preachy.
In the hands of Lee and Hatakeyama, the characters of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are hardly analogues for their namesakes. Rather, they represent our culture's obsession with celebrity. Their dialogue is bitingly satirical, and the actors' fantastically deadpan delivery is spot-on.
But Avidon's specific focus on the Olsen twins isn't random, either. For the millennial generation, these are quintessential child stars, and two of few to transition into adulthood without leaving the limelight. The significance of coming of age is important in this play, as emphasized by the chorus of fresh-faced and upbeat high schoolers called the "Amazing Girls" (Crystal Arnette, Rachel Lin, Elizabeth May, Vicki Rodriguez, and Bonnie White).
The girls have no direct relation to the rest of the action in the play; rather, they emerge at various points to discuss their ambitions and aspirations, listing tropes about high school life that ought to ring familiar to many in the audience. They're motivated by a singular desire to get into their top choice colleges. Taking honors classes or winning prizes aren't so much accomplishments as requirements for achieving the lofty status of "well-rounded."
We don't know the fates of the Amazing Girls, and that's one of the key messages of the play. Doing all the "right" things can only take you so far, as Grace has discovered in the decade that separates her from the chorus. There's nothing wrong with having lofty ambitions, but not everyone can achieve everything.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have the Olsen twins. They're famous because they've always been famous, even though they don't really do anything. As Grace and the Amazing Girls have their goals or dreams, the twins are struggling to find meaning within their lives as well. One day Ashley decides to become a singer (the musical number that ensues is another of Lee and Hatakeyama's enjoyable accomplishments), but soon, she's decided that she'd rather work in fashion.
In this world, everyone seems somehow imprisoned — in a marriage, their fantasies, the daily grind, and so on. (A flexible set by Scott Tedmon-Jones and lighting by John Eckert particularly drive this point home.) And as the show progresses, all the characters' attempts to escape from their prisons escalate.
This gives Folk-Sullivan, Grubbs, and Alex Mandell (as the Soldier) an enjoyable opportunity to develop their characters, who were marginalized to the Olsens earlier in the play. At the same time, it disturbs the timing of the performance. The constant shuffle between scenes and characters doesn't happen quite quickly enough to heighten the impact of the dialogue.
In the end, the sense of nihilism that builds throughout Mary-Kate Olsen Is In Love seems excessive. The constant questioning and undermining of what financially secure, well-educated women should strive for in life starts to seem melodramatic when dramatized to the extent that it is here. It's the curse of the millennial narrative. And while Mary-Kate takes an innovative approach, aided by an able cast, it ultimately falls victim to the same traps.