Fringe 2011 Review: Virgie
Posted by metaphorical on 20 August 2011
VENUE #13: Bowery Poetry Club
Performance reviewed: Fri 19 @ 6:30
Remaining performances: Wed 24 @ 9:30 Sat 27 @ 2
(using the BroadwayWorld rating system of 10=effusive praise; 9=excellent; 7/8=positive with some reservations; 5/6=respectfully unenthused; 3/4=mostly negative; 2=little to recommend; 1=offended, insulted, angered)
What is it about Australians? Are they disinterested by stories?
Vergie is a reconstruction of the life of “a little-known female actor, Virgie Vivienne, who brought Shakespeare to the desert in the 1890s.” according to a program note. She is, unfortunately, almost as little known to us after the show as before. As the notes continues, the show “tracks her life through Australia and Europe, love, tragedy, and of course, theatre.” As it turns out, that’s an excellent and revealing choice of words.
Renee Newman-Storen has done an admirable job researching Virgie’s life, “sourced,” she says, “from textbooks, literature from the era, newspaper articles, theatre reviews, and oral histories….” Unfortunately most of Virgie’s footprints through the historical record consist of theatrical reviews in Australian newspapers and they make by far the greater part of Newman-Storen’s script. Having Virgie read her own notices with demure pride may help us track Virgie through the desert, but it’s not much as drama goes.
The program note goes on to promise, “…and original writing connecting what we don’t know and who I think Virgie might have been.” There’s far to little of that, and rather than actually connect Virgie’s dots Newman-Storen engages in the interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying, device of representing gaps in the historical record as lapses of Virgie’s memory. We get in fact only three or four scenes, one with a syphilitic gold miner and the others with a brothel madame with the obligatory heart of gold. Though we’re told Vergie is very close to her mother and follows her everywhere, she isn’t represented in scenes nor is she even described except for her age and date of death. Likewise unrepresented are Virgie’s husband as well as a man who she sues for breach of (marital) promise.
Newman-Storen is a terrific physical actor with a charming manner whose repetoire includes a spot-on ability to portray a camel. As a fellow writer I understand her fascination with Virgie and I admire her unwillingness to distort the historical record but I wish she had asked herself if, in the absence of artifice, there’s any story here to tell.
[more fringe 2011 reviews here]