Theater

Review: "What's a Girl to Do When It's Time to Put Down the Drink"

Tara Handron drew inspiration from her Georgetown research on female alcoholics.
Tara Handron drew inspiration from her Georgetown research on female alcoholics. (By Peter James Zielinski)
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By Celia Wren
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"Yes, I understand my choices: recovery crap or jail," a young woman deadpans to a judge in "What's a Girl to Do When It's Time to Put Down the Drink?", a solo show about women and alcoholism running at the H Street Playhouse. Apprehended for booze-fueled mayhem that included biting a policeman, the culprit pauses for a moment. "I am going to need to think about it," she says.

It's one of many wry moments in this thoughtful, modestly entertaining piece, written, performed and produced by Tara Handron, and directed by Laura Brienza. Drawing on research she has conducted as a graduate student in Georgetown University's Communication, Culture and Technology program, Handron has woven a skein of monologues that conjure up the lives of female alcoholics of various ages and backgrounds: a suicidal New Yorker who's a washed-up hand model; a weary Chicagoan in a state-funded detox center; a decorous Bethesda resident who's been sober for 30 days; a 70-year-old pioneer of the recovery movement; and more.

The soliloquys in the first part of this hourlong dramatic casebook depict women still in the grips of addiction, while later character portraits chronicle humbling and -- as the play's tone tilts increasingly toward optimism -- ultimately successful battles with the problem. Many of the speeches take the form of stories shared at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, some of them conducted in cyberspace. To evoke the online sessions, text scrolls across a screen at the back of the stage, to the accompaniment of synchronized recorded voiceovers. Apart from the screen and three chairs, the show's set consists only of a phalanx of liquor bottles, positioned on the floor, where they square off against a battery of disposable coffee cups.

A performer with a degree from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, Handron suffuses the monologues with animation, her body language mutating as she shifts from character to character -- from the tense, crumpled pose of a college student groggily recovering from an abusive sexual encounter to the violent pacing of a yuppie high on coke and cocktails to the unsteady dancing and yammering of a twentysomething at a wedding reception, and so on. A couple of allegorical segments display the black-clad Handron in more fanciful mode -- as the personification of Willingness ("I am like that super-powerful laundry detergent! A little of me goes a long way!"), for instance, she flounces around with calisthenics like a cheerleader's.

The earnestness, narrow focus and therapeutic vocabulary of "What's a Girl to Do?" obviously make it best suited to audiences whose lives have been touched by alcoholism. But any theatergoer can appreciate Handron and Brienza's skill at packing humor and theatricality into sociological observations.

What's a Girl to Do When It's Time to Put Down the Drink?, written, performed and produced by Tara Handron. Directed by Laura Brienza; graphic set design, Michael Brienza; technical and lighting design, Justin Keenan Miller. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays through Feb. 25 at the H Street Playhouse, 1365 H St. NE. Visit http://www.tarahandron.com.


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