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A CurtainUp Review

What Ever: An American Odyssey in Eight Acts
By Amanda Cooper

South Side Cafe

Are you a psychic? ---Jeanette
No. I'm an old woman. .--- Violet
What do you get when you mix a dare, a solo performance artist, and the mid-nineties? As one can find out by seeing What Ever at P.S. 122, the result is an 8 act, 4 night extravaganza which follows ten characters through a year of their lives in the aforementioned transitional era.

Heather Woodbury is a force to be reckoned with. Performing a ten 1/2 hour solo show over four nights is hard enough to wrap one's brain around, but it becomes mind boggling when there are over 100 different characters who show up throughout the evenings -- and dialogue with each other. Fortunately for the viewer, Woodbury approaches this form with clarity, giving each of her characters, especially her ten main characters, a specificity which makes them instantaneously recognizable. And if four nights of theater seems overwhelming, What Ever became a bona-fide "living novel" published by Farrer, Straus & Giroux/Faber this month!

As my first night (of two) with Woodbury progressed, she became increasingly comfortable with her own idea, physically easing into the moments more and more (or perhaps it was the audience who needed time to ease into her idea). She has mastered the one-performer dialogue and finessed the amount of movement between lines as well as the instantaneous character switches, surpassing even herself with the highly physical scenes that required much movement when transitioning from person to person.

Woodbury's words can be overly poetic and push too hard to illustrate the effects of drugs on teenagers. When she's at her best, the text surfaces crazy, unexpected humor that also manages to make clever commentaries on America. The audience is treated to images of Kurt Cobain as a friendly ghost, and a seventy year-old gay man claiming to have invented Raves.

There is a strong feeling that this was originally done on a small stage with small audiences. As a result, my experience sitting in the second row was more engaging than the evening I spent in the fifth row. It was disappointing that the versatility of this theater space was not used to its full potential, and we were simply placed proscenium-style. Keeping the bare set and props (a few chairs and microphone stands, a headband and pie pan…) similar to the setup of a club gig worked well.

This is a down-and-dirty show that should accept all aspects of its own form, and not try to hide the roughness; for example, almost-blackouts between scenes when Woodbury was preparing were unnecessary and a lot less interesting than letting the audience watch those transitions take place.

Every act has its own crazy costume, ranging from hippie tie-die dresses and leggings to an old Cheerios T-shirt and ripped up, bright pants. These costumes did not seem to represent any of the characters, but perhaps they were more about representing the styles of that era? Despite some staging problems, and the fact that ten 1/2 hours over four nights is longer than necessary, this is a tour-de-force. Originality and humor greatly compliment Woodbury's talent as a performer and writer.

What Ever: An American Odyssey in Eight Acts Written and Performed by: Heather Woodbury
Directed and Edited by: Dudley Saunders
Lighting Design by: David Robkin
P.S. 122 , 150 First Avenue (at 9th Street) 212/ 477 5288.
Thursday to Saturday at 7:30PM and Sunday at 5PM.
The episodes begin on Thursday, and two are performed a night through Sunday.
Running Time:s 2to 2 1/2 hours, with a ten minute intermission -- $17
Review based on September 4th and September 5th performances.

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