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Theatre Review by James Wilson - September 8, 2019

Lois Robbins
Photo by Joan Marcus

In L.O.V.E.R., the new one-person play currently running at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at the Signature Center, writer and performer Lois Robbins recounts a lifetime (thus far) of romantic and carnal affairs. The audience learns in the initial moments of the monologue, however, that the narrator's first sexual partner was not even human. As a child, she achieved arousal — or what she called "THE FEELING" — through regular encounters with the family's reliable, strong, and pleasurably vibrating washing machine.

In her quest for sensual fulfillment, The Woman, as the program identifies the narrator, gradually moves from durable furniture and household appliances to young men. Yet, the qualities she pursues in a mate remain relatively consistent. She encapsulates these in the titular acronym L.O.V.E.R.: "Lust, Orgasm, Virility, Erotic, Rapture."

The monologue covers dramaturgically familiar ground as it presents the coming of age of a young Jewish girl, who among other things has a conflicted relationship with her overprotective and sometimes cruel father. One moment he treats his daughter as a princess, and the next he publicly humiliates her. She explains the effect the mixed signals has on her post-adolescent development: "My father, unknowingly, strips me of the ease I'd found in my body and replaces it with shame and dis-ease. I become frigid . . . afraid of being touched."

When she goes away to college, the newly liberated co-ed has a string of relationships, but her father still influences her choices. If she does not date someone who is Jewish, for example, he says that he will pull her out of college instantly. A parade of affairs follows, and the narrator progressively develops a healthier attitude toward sex and romantic commitment.

As directed by Karen Carpenter, Robbins is a genial raconteur and an engaging performer. She establishes a warm rapport with the audience, and she deftly accentuates the chronicle with effective physicality. (Jo Winiarski's scenic design, Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew's lighting, and Jane Shaw's sound design enhance the theatricality of the narrative.) Robbins has a winning way of presenting frank, sexual imagery with deadpan delivery that is reminiscent of stand-up comic Rita Rudner and sprinkled with the dry manner of the legendary Elaine May.

The material, though, is not nearly up to the level of the artist's forebears. The confessional tales, for instance, do not have the urgency and depth of The Vagina Monologues or the wry sensibility and existential absurdity of the more recent Fleabag. In addition, the other characters in the monologue, including friends, family members, and a host of lovers, are not drawn (or presented) with lacerating specificity. Except for Barry, a two-timing, anti-Semitic actor, the lovers and other figures in the chronicle often come across as types rather than fully developed individuals.

The play takes a swerve in last third of the story. The account shifts from romantic and sexual exploits to issues related to marriage, a health crisis, and parenting. By the end of the play, The Woman has redefined the acronym L.O.V.E.R. with words that reflect greater maturity and self-actualization. Unfortunately, the life lessons feel tacked on, reductively generic, and to put it bluntly, pretty boring. There are still pleasures surely to be had, after all, through occasional trysts with the old Maytag during the spin-dry cycle.

Through November 2
Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral