Theater: Living the lush life

Amy Danielson

It is Thursday night, and my mother and I arrive at the Bryant-Lake Bowl theater just minutes before Women Who Drink is scheduled to begin. It is a popular show, having played on and off for quite a few years; some nights, audience members arrive dressed as characters in the performance. Tonight, it is late enough that all of the seats up front, in the middle, and most in the back are already occupied. A pair in the last row serves as our only option ñ unusual seats for me as I prefer to sit up close so I can see all of the details on stage, but an excellent vantage point for audience observation before the lights go down. And it certainly is an interesting audience, as female Baby Boomers (my mother included) fill the space, most seemingly attending with several friends of like age and gender, perhaps looking to share a few memories.

Performer Leslye Orr, also a Baby Boomer, is ready to reminisce. She begins her one-woman show by mentioning a childhood ritual: playing bar. At this point, I hear mutters from the audience, “Oh, I did that.”

It has been a long time since some of these ladies have poured cranberry juice into Tom Collins glasses while pretending to smoke candy cigarettes in outfits bedizened with costume jewelry ñ indeed, most have moved on to more pungent drinks in genuine saloons. Some have made a sort of a life there, their memories permanently intertwined with evenings spent in the company of alcohol and alcoholics.

It is these women, and their blurry, rum-soaked memories, that Orr examines in this production. Dressed in a simple red dress, by switching hats, glasses and cocktails Orr transforms into 16 different characters.

Orr plays women of a variety of generations and social statuses, fluidly transitioning from one to the next. She contorts her face to show the weathered age of one character and the youthful impudence of another. Her skill at altering her voice brings further depth to the characters, as she often adds a distinct Midwestern accent.

Each of Orr’s 16 monologues offers something novel: One crotchety old woman sits at a bar with her legs splayed wide, telling and retelling that this bar used to be a speakeasy. Another character brashly drones on about summer days spent with her family: “I’d keep the steaks on the grill till they were leather.” And these characters are just mildly inebriated. A drunker characters talks to a coat draped over the bar: “If you kill yourself,” she advises the outerwear, “you ruin your chances to do something while you’re alive.”

 

Women Who Drink plays through August 29 at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, (612) 825-8949.