Ever been so annoyed with life overshadowed by celebrity import, you wanted to kill Lena Dunham? No–probably not. (Though I’ve personally wished an atomic wedgie on Pamela Anderson on more than one occasion…) Whether you find Dunham’s rise to fame undeservedly random, her character on the show Girls pretentiously self absorbed, or you’ve seen “better acting come out of Kristin Stewart’s ass”—you probably never thought one way or another about it…
All the same, that is what Sergio Castillo sets out to explore in his newly penned play, I Want to Kill Lena Dunham currently in performance at the Avery Schreiber Playhouse.
Set in present day New York in an environment where artists consistently find it more and more difficult to get by as inflation and corporate encroachment suffocate their very livelihoods, in a nation where our protagonist—a liberal progressive, gun totin’ Nora– feels compelled to declare, “there are only moderate Republicans posing as Democrats and Right Wing elitists”, in culmination with a world where Nora opines, “Lena Dunham represents everything that is deplorable about our generation”, the stage is set for a collision of crestfallen cravings combining like oil and water fueled by finitely frozen finances.
Utilizing Lena Dunham as the epitome of present day socio-cultural success, playwright Castillo will declare (via some most intriguing program notes): “By definition, according to many social critics, theoreticians, and philosophers, I am a millennial. I had no particular say in the label that was branded on my generation. I find it odd that we inherited an age where it has never been easier to create art, but we also gained access to a period where, at least with regards to the modern era, it has never been more discouraged by socio-economic conditions. I also happen to be a couple months younger than actor/writer/director/producer Lena Dunham. She very easily could have sat next to me in high school. I have met many people who worship her work and I’ve met many people who despise it to their cores. Either way, she seems to spark a cultural conversation that extends far beyond herself or anything she’s ever tried to accomplish… Ultimately this play is not about Lena Dunham. It’s about American Culture. It’s about our obsession with entertainment and our aspiration to be entertained. It’s about privilege and the responsibilities that come with it, even if we choose not to accept those responsibilities. In an age where the line between entertainment and culture has been entirely erased, in an age wherein half the country is in near poverty, and in an age where bullies are cheered and victims are blamed, it seems likely that something will have to give. I’m not sure what that is exactly but I can certainly imagine how anyone who constantly meets adversity at every turn can snap. This is one of these stories.”
Replete with dramatic tension, protagonistic painter Nora’s life falls apart when she loses her job along with various other possibilities pertaining to “friendships” and family. Her ire regarding Dunham is fueled by the fact that said star’s appeal is ubiquitous such that she will symbolically begin speaking of something that truly matters in the world only to be interrupted by an entertainment television anchor spouting the day’s most current celebrity news halting completely her inner dialogue. Her ultimate undoing will obliquely lead her to Dunham in a cavalcade of circuitous circumstances.
Though the suspense is somewhat palpable, I have very mixed feelings regarding the title pertaining to the mystery of the end of the play. Though intriguing, I Want to Kill Lena Dunham might give just a little too much away concerning the unveiling of Nora’s, and quite possibly even Dunham’s, fate. As an audience member I much prefer feeling that the main character is going to do something drastic but feel more haunted if it is still in the realm of ethereal possibilities. (Case in point: I am one of those weird people who would have preferred that Sunset Blvd. not have begun at the end with Joe Gillis floating face down in the pool.) There really is an unparalleled tension in not knowing what desperate lengths a character will go to or what ills the protagonist will suffer until the apex of a story.
While the playwright’s concept and notes are vastly intriguing, I found myself getting a little bored as our protagonist drones on and on regarding her hatred of Dunham, rendering her as pathetic as those who would prattle on about her greatness. Conversely, the enthusiastic musings by a wide-eyed Hipster portrayed pluckily by Lindsay Stetson were at least comedic and engaging to behold. Perhaps my lack of appreciation on the first count, lies in the fact that I am of the incorrect generation, or perhaps I simply don’t know enough of Dunham’s work to have a strong enough opinion on the matter one way or the other. Conversely the title of the play alone did prompt me to want to see it! So I suppose, regarding the play’s concept to actualization, my opinions are mixed.
The acting is wonderful and sound and directing by Nikki Bohm top notch. Melissa Mensah’s portrayal of Nora is aptly tortured and tense. James, Nora’s father played by an earnest Al Spencer is most sympathetically paternal and you just want to know more about him. It is James and Nora’s relationship that intrigues me most as the daughter attempts to protect the father from a father who wants to do nothing more than protect. While I was a little distracted in their difference in accents, (and had a hard time putting my finger on just exactly what Nora’s was) I found myself adding my own back story that perhaps Nora grew up in a different country for a time as a child and adopted that accent while James’ remained thoroughly American.
Lynn, portrayed by a most unforgiving Marie Brock shares an equally intriguing rapport with Nora. It is Lynn who ultimately pushes Nora out of her apartment and you wonder what other tensions are brewing beneath these women’s psyches in light of such a cold and uncompassionate move. All in all Brock channels her complete inner bitch for the role leaving me hissing through dramatic smiles as she alights the stage for her final curtain call.
Shauna Dunnigan is most delightful and familiar in the friendly familiarity field as Nora’s companion and roommate and Lynn’s lover, and Shana Leigh Gorski is positively perky in the most painful of ways as the Mary Hart(ful) reminiscent entertainment Reporter.
Though there is not much of a set, the walls are painted in a delicious relief of our fair host city in a manner reminiscent of the most passionate of muraled graffiti. Prior to the play’s commencement, New York street and subway sounds are piped throughout the theatre and lobby to most environmentally ubiquitous effect!
I Want to Kill Lena Dunham runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 7 pm at the Avery Schreiber Playhouse.
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