Women should be sexy but not have sex, a wife shall be submissive, men like stupid girls, bleach blonde is "in," and if you dress like a slut men will treat you like one. These are just a few of the many mixed messages the media sends to young girls every day. Some roll their eyes and choose to ignore them, while others listen carefully and take them to heart. In Jessica Lynn Johnson's solo show, Oblivious to Everyone, we meet a pretty young woman in her late 20s named Carrie who is completely immersed in the ever-changing world of pop culture. Like its main character, Oblivious to Everyone has a silly, shallow appearance but a surprisingly deep, emotional core. When Carrie first stumbles onstage wearing giant bug-eyed glasses, a tight, low-cut shirt, and pants with the word "Juicy" scrawled across the rear, it seems the play will follow the same winning formula as the popular MTV show Newlyweds, focusing its comedy on the hilariously stupid thoughts and antics of a beautiful girl. However, appearances are deceiving both within the play and in the initial perception of it.
After setting down her shopping bags, Carrie hangs up her cellphone, chirping, "Love ya, mean it, bye," and smiles flirtatiously at the audience members, who collectively assume the role of a psychiatrist. She says she does not know why her friends and family want her to see a doctor, but for some strange reason they are suddenly embarrassed to be seen with her.
This reason is soon revealed. Carrie has a tendency to break into multiple personalities, mainly ones she has seen on various television programs. Sometimes she is an abusive Bible Belt husband from the Jerry Springer show, and other times she is an adult film star who has been waiting all her life to be on the Howard Stern show. But Carrie has no idea that these other personalities exist.
Johnson does an amazing job of abruptly switching from one extreme character to the next. Each new persona completely swallows up her original one, leaving no traces of the Paris Hilton wannabe that was just sitting in the doctor's chair. But even with the believable mannerisms and dialogue of each alter ego, it is Carrie who has the most dimensions. There is a deeply scarred woman beneath her perky, smiling exterior whom we catch only glimpses of throughout the show. Still, these peeks into something more than a culture-junkie airhead are what keep you glued to the unfolding drama.
Carrie's personalities are not so much an illness as they are a symbol of the repressed person who lives inside her. She is so influenced by other people's thoughts and opinions that she can no longer tell where they end and she begins. Her alter egos express the lonely, vulnerable, and insecure aspects of her personality that she is too afraid to acknowledge.
Because of these multiple personalities, Johnson labels her play a serio-comedy, but it is also an important social commentary with a message that should not be taken lightly. After all, popular media icons for young girls currently include Paris Hilton, someone who makes a living out of partying and behaving badly, and Jessica Simpson, who found fame in acting stupid.
Oblivious to Everyone combines all the shows, sound bites and mixed messages young girls receive every day to create a frightening picture of what popular American culture has become. Fortunately, it also provides hope that beneath every Paris Hilton clone is a young girl whose longing for self-expression will one day shine through. After much soul searching, even Carrie comes to realize that although the occasional guilty pleasure is O.K., the real world is more than just a show on MTV.