Crying Woolf | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Crying Woolf 

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Crying Woolf, Zebra Crossing Theatre. Adapting a work of fiction to the stage, especially a complete and satisfying read like Virginia Woolf's short story "The New Dress," is always a challenge. In her one-woman show, adapter and performer Alexandra Main makes a brave attempt at portraying the woman in Woolf's story, Catherine Waring, who's returned from a party at which she rather unsuccessfully debuted a yellow dress. But Woolf's short story is essentially a stream-of-consciousness examination of identity that can't be as thorough onstage as it is on the page. Main is a strong and able performer, and ironically many of her most interesting moments occur when she's not using the text but showing us her character through movement. The way she rips off her coat, butters her bread, and pours her tea gives us insight into Catherine's psyche. But Main's use of Woolf's text--whose setting she's changed to the American south of the recent past--ranges from the fairly impassioned to the stiff and labored.

Designer Tony Martin has created an intimate space for Catherine's diatribe, with the dress hanging on a sort of mannequin at all times. Lighting coordinator David Preis's design eerily changes the colors and patterns on the dress to match Catherine's mood, a device that's interesting at first but as the piece moves forward can be distracting. It seems this sort of spectacle is meant to fill a void in the stage version of "The New Dress," which on the page compels the reader to imagine the garment and experience Catherine's changing moods through words alone.

--Gabrielle S. Kaplan

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