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Gallaudet University: Eastman Studio Theatre (tickets available here)
Sunday, July 12 at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 15 at 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 22 at 6 p.m. Saturday, July 25 at 2:15 p.m.
They Say: A mother gives away her cherished possessions and reveals her deepest secrets. Other stuff includes: a filled-to-bursting storage unit, an art collection lost to the wrecking ball, a Moscow meeting with Paul Robeson, and a long-lost file box of knowledge.
Becky’s Take: This play about “stuff” is actually about a man’s mother. Characters wind in and out, but the central role is her: hoarding, saving, reminiscing, and just getting goddamn tired.
The one-man show has many characters, and its leading man, John Feffer, switches between them convincingly. He makes these changes with hats, scarves, and necklaces, but the real transformation comes in his voice and mannerisms — his ability to make each character unique and recognizable.
One-man plays demand a strong actor, which Feffer is, but they also demand a script compelling enough to be upheld by just that actor. The story is good, but the play lacks … something. It contains plenty of pieces to draw the theatregoer in — revelations from his mother’s diary, a “family secret”— but doesn’t maintain enough momentum in-between these scenes.
Stuff is autobiographical, and Feffer’s characters are all based on real ones from his life: his mother, his aunt, his friend, a man he never met but knows about, and himself. The theme he uses to connect them is their stuff, but this connection never made sense to me. Sure, his mother hoarded, and he can’t stand the thought of getting rid of one of his books, and his friend has a giant train collection, but this shared trait and all the shared stuff never seemed more than marginally relevant. The heart of the story is elsewhere: not in his friend’s trains, but in his mother’s words and diary and life. The scenes that focus on her failed aspirations, and on what she hid or compartmentalized, are the most compelling parts.
Those who enjoy audience participation will get a kick out of the central gimmick, where Feffer has everyone pass around books, cassettes, weird toys, and other stuff that he hands out at the beginning. Feffer instructs everyone to pass their stuff to the person next to them at the start of each scene, of which there are 19. I’m not into audience participation — or even acknowledging the person sitting next to me — so I didn’t like having to squat across the aisle to hand someone a stuffed toy every five minutes. But hey, different strokes.
See it if: You like autobiographical, personal plays about the complexities of parents.
Skip it if: You don’t like audience participation, one-man shows, or touching other people’s stuff.