Monday, August 12, 2013

Charlotte Bydwell's A Woman of Leisure and Panic: Life's A Beach?

Charlotte Bydwell in A Woman of Leisure and Panic. Photo by Matt Sundin. 

In her dance play, A Woman of Leisure and Panic, creator and performer Charlotte Bydwell twists the plucky heroine archetype — roots stretching from Becky Sharp to Mary Tyler Moore — into witty commentary about balancing personal and creative needs in the digital age. Bydwell, russet hair twisted haphazardly into a bun, beguiles with a performance sensitive to the clash between responsibility and artistic productivity.   

The piece opens with Bydwell, clad in a blush-colored maxi-skirt, slumped against a bulletin board scrawled with a single calendar month. A slab of paper folded to resemble a laptop and a cardboard cellphone rest on a nearby desk. As the opening music from Gone With the Wind chirps, she peers wide-eyed into the future yawning before her.

Bydwell soon abandons contemplation for frenzied activity: She performs energetic calisthenics to shave off self-perceived pudge, she gratefully accepts a hostessing gig to make good on overdue bills, and she struts to the classic making-it-in-New-York song as she envisions potential success. Commitments pile up for this artless go-getter, and her calendar is increasingly overrun with scribbled obligations. Overwhelmed, she chucks her responsibilities to lounge on the beach.

Bydwell blends an amusing mix of movement, voiceovers, and everyday sounds (fire alarms when she exercises and pings to indicate the arrival of a text message) to envision a bustling environment inhabited by a sunny alter ego who can’t quite seem to navigate the one, two sucker punches life throws.  Her stream-of-conscious narration elicits guffaws from the audience as she unsuccessfully plans diets and ruminates on the possibility of a life-changing phone call.  She’s the millennial Bridget Jones.

While Bydwell boasts an impressive pedigree with training from Julliard and stints with Monica Bill Barnes and Larry Keigwin, she shuns virtuosity for straightforward actions that skillfully punctuate her monologue. When caught on an express train making local stops, she clicks her toes and heels together in a circuitous path, face knotted in annoyed acceptance. It’s subtle and perfectly relatable.

The strength of A Woman of Leisure and Panic rests in Bydwell’s sweetly comic touch. With a cheery shrug of the shoulders, she reminds us that life’s tribulations are best approached with droll absurdity.   

This review refers to the performance seen on Sunday, August 11th at 3:30pm as part of the New York Fringe Festival.