Wednesday, September 11, 2019

69. (2019-2020): Review: L.O.V.E.R. (seen September 10, 2019)

“Just a Five Towns Girl”

L.O.V.E.R., originally produced in Croton Falls, NY, and then in Los Angeles, is a middling, sexually-oriented memoir cum one-woman play by and starring actress Lois Robbins. Seen locally last year at the United Solo festival, it's now playing at the Pershing Square Signature Center. 

Since I confess my previous unfamiliarity with her, I assume the same is true of many who might wonder, what’s Lois Robbins to us or we to her that we should care for her? 
Lois Robbins. All photos: Joan Marcus.
Lois Robbins is an attractive, youthful-looking woman at around the mid-century mark, with the svelte dancer’s physique of someone half her age. She takes pleasure in displaying it when the script allows her to remove her long, clinging sheath—worn with sneakers—so she can prance about in pale pastel tights.

Robbins has had a reasonably substantial career in all the entertainment media. You can watch clips of her film work here on IMBD, beginning with one showing her opposite British heartthrob Jonathan Rhys Meyers in The Aspern Papers, an indie also starring Vanessa Redgrave. Her principal claim to fame seems to be her work on various daytime TV soaps.
Lois Robbins.
More to the point, she’s from a Jewish family in the Five Towns section of Long Island (where my own daughter raised her family). It’s a geographical origin (near JFK) she finds slightly embarrassing although she’s clearly proud of her ethnicity, insisting she can play “Jewish” despite never getting cast as such. Although her script, which is more in the “then-I-laid” than the “then-I-acted” vein, doesn’t cite particular movie. TV, or theatre work, she constantly refers back to her upbringing, including her demanding father’s snide remarks and her mother’s pearls of parental wisdom.

This background, and her New York-area personality, should make her story that much more immediate to a local audience. Indeed, the vast majority of those around me were middle-aged women, clearly her target audience, who seemed to appreciate the shifting focuses of her self-deprecating tale of self-gratification, evolution from ugly duckling to "stunning" (as an admirer says), sexual development, search for love in all the wrong men, theatrical ambitions, marriage, parenting, and health issues.
Lois Robbins.
I say “self-gratification” because the play begins with Robbins sprawled across a washing machine as she tells us that she had her first orgasm at age three. She proceeds to explain how, as she grew up, she couldn’t resist “the feeling” she got from direct contact with the soft and hard parts of her furniture, as well as the vibrations of her washing machine.

Her detailed account of her masturbation mastery suggests we’re in for an autobiographical Fifty Shades of Grey but, alas (or amen), her story largely drops the radically risqué to concentrate on her more conventional romantic and sexual experiences (including her rejection of a threesome) as she simultaneously pursued her career in New York and the West Coast. None of the men or things she does with them are particularly unusual, though, and, much as they may seem unique to her, sound relatively common in our sexually liberal times.

Finally, Robbins found Mr. Right in the shape of the spouse she calls (like everyone else she mentions) by a pseudonym, Arthur, despite his being the enormously wealthy Andrew Zaro, a fact she neglects to convey. Robbins's survival from a serious--if, tragically, all too familiar--health scare and the raising of her own kids fill out (or bloat, depending on your perspective) the narrative,.

Fewer topics and more of the outrageousness promised at the start might have salvaged the piece. A successful, recent example of such an approach would be Jacquelin Novak: Get on Your Knees, a one-woman show preoccupied with relationship issues in the context of the actress’s obsession with fellatio.

It’s also hard not to see in Robbins’s relationships (including an actual “affair”) a tendency toward passivity and victimization, as if it were always the men who were responsible, not only for making the initial connection but for whatever difficulties ensued.

Director Karen Carpenter gussies up Robbins’s rather unsurprising, disappointingly unfunny material by moving the lithe, physically expressive performer up, down, and around Jo Winiarski’s skeletal set of a three-tiered structure of steps and landings dressed with white sheeting, over which hang an assortment of seven, small, glass lighting instruments. Jeannette Oi-Suk Yew’s lighting is called on frequently to alter the mood from one sequence to another (indicated by moving LED ribbons saying things like, “THE GIRL,” “THE TEENAGER,” “THE WOMAN,” “THE PATIENT,” etc.). Jane Shaw’s expert sound design, with music, crowd noises, and other effects, also contributes mightily.
Lois Robbins.
Robbins is polished and pleasant, but (a few moments of genuineness aside) she comes across more as an actress than the spontaneously charming person she needs to be. Nor is she helped by material filled with commonplaces that aren’t enhanced by her occasional tendency to giggle, as if that might make them seem wittier than they are.  

At two points, Robbins provides different words to spell out her acronymic title. I came up with my own but maybe it's best not to repeat it.

Pershing Square Signature Center/Alice Griffith Jewel Box Theatre
480 W. 42nd St., NYC
Through November 2