Friday, July 2, 2010

Theater Review: Everyday Rapture

Location: American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42 Street, NY, NY

Website: Official Roundabout Theatre site

Starring: Sherie Rene Scott, Lindsay Mendez, Betsy Wolfe, Eamon Foley

My Review: Everyday Rapture is a one-woman show that just happens to feature three other people. Creator and star Sherie Rene Scott dominates the stage for 90 minutes, eagerly and breathlessly sharing the story of her personal journey from a sheltered Mennonite upbringing in rural Kansas to pursuing her dream of Broadway fame(ish). Well, she shares some of that journey, and just glosses over the rest. Too bad “the rest” would have been more interesting to hear about.

Part memoir, part cabaret act, and all Scott, Rapture attempts to convey the various inner and outer turmoil that occurs when pursuing a lifestyle that goes against everything that’s been ingrained in you. Scott uses a variety of theatrical devices to tell her tale, including monologues (comedic and dramatic), songs (originals and covers), and multi-media presentations (Jesus slideshow). Some work better than others, but the problem with the show isn’t her presentation, it’s what she chooses to present.

Rather than sharing a full story arc, Scott tells a handful of very specific tales that happened along the way. But by leaving out other key elements, the contexts of these tales tend to get lost, and therefore lack the emotional punch they should have. Particularly disappointing is how she barely shares anything about the Mennonite religion (other than referring to it as “Amish-lite”) or what growing up in that culture is like. Presumably, the only people who know a lot about the Mennonites are actual Mennonites, and seeing how they’re scarce in New York City, the bulk of the audience would benefit from a brief lesson in Mennonite 101. Not knowing why the religion frowns upon those working in the performing arts makes it difficult to completely sympathize with the choice she had to make.

Scott also barely mentions her family, other than a story involving her favorite cousin who was shunned for being a homosexual. But there’s little mention of her parents or other close relatives, or how they reacted when she decided to come to NYC to make it as an actress. In fact, her entire trip to NYC is overlooked. One moment she’s a teenager planning how to make the big move after visiting the city during her rumspringa (which apparently the Mennonites practice), then in the next moment she’s a Broadway “semi-star” (her phrase) with an admirer posting fan videos about her on YouTube. So, how did you make the move to New York, Sherie? How did your family react? What were some of your early jobs? How did you struggle with your Mennonite upbringing in Manhattan? None of these questions are answered, or even touched upon, and any one of them would have been more interesting than the mawkish tale about her fabulous present-day life she ends the show with.

While a flawed show overall, there are moments in Rapture that truly shine, like the aforementioned tale of Scott’s beloved cousin and her youthful confusion over his condemned lifestyle. Her musical tributes to Jesus, Judy Garland, and Mr. Rogers are both hilarious and heartfelt, and the sketch with her young YouTube fan is fun, though runs a bit long. Her two backup singers—the “Mennonettes”—are a welcome sight whenever they appear, because not only are they talented performers, they also take some of the focus off of Scott for a bit (90 straight minutes of her bubbly babbling would be a lot to take, even for the most devoted fan).

The main reason I wanted to see Rapture is because I actually am a fan of Sherie Rene Scott. I saw her fabulous turn in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, have listened to her on the Aida soundtrack, heard she was the best part of the dismal The Little Mermaid, and even saw her years ago in a short-lived Off-Broadway musical comedy adaptation of Debbie Does Dallas (don’t ask). She has a great voice and impeccable comedic timing, so I was eager to learn about her crazy trip to where she is now. But not only was a disappointed in the gaping holes in her narrative, but in her herself. For the entire performance she was overly bouncy and twitchy, often feigning being scatterbrained and losing her place, as if to cry out, “Look at how charmingly befuddled I am!” I give her credit for maintaining the shtick for the entire show, but that doesn’t make it any less irritating. The only actor I’ve ever seen successfully pull off charming befuddlement is Hugh Grant…15 years ago. There’s something sort of desperate about a 40-year-old actor who feels the need to behave like a hyper teenager to endear herself to the audience.

Bottom Line: Everyday Rapture laid roots in an Off-Broadway production last year, but as a last minute replacement in Roundabout Theatre’s current season (taking the place of Lips Together, Teeth Apart), it’s proved to not be quite ready for a Broadway stage. Scott is obviously thrilled to be there, sharing a passion project that she’s poured so much of herself into, but her enthusiasm for the material never really transfers to the audience. It could be a case of a show that just needs some more reworking, or it could be that—much like therapy—memoirs are rarely as interesting to others as they are to the subject herself.

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