Fictional Authenticity

In Mary Brigit Poppleton is Writing a Memoir, an energetic new play by Madeline Walter, the title character, played by a vivacious Allison Altman, decides to fake teenage pregnancy as fodder for a memoir and as her opportunity to burst free from a mundane world. As long as her ruse holds up, so does the play. Under the nimble direction of Heidi Handelsman, the first act bounces along as Mary Brigit undertakes her mission: fake a pregnancy, gain her family's attention, and write a bestseller. The ensemble delivers stylized performances in keeping with Heather Cohn's set, which uses a series of candy-colored tables on wheels to form everything from school desks to a dining room table. Mary Brigit occasionally reads aloud from her memoir; its arch language contrasts with the play's pop-cultural sensibility and lends insight into her desire to be part of a grandiose world.

Handelsman keeps the material light and the pace up, never overemphasizing Mary Brigit's rhetorical questions ("Am I pregnant...Does it matter?") and providing space for the audience to recognize the ridiculousness of the situation. Her father's rapid succession of clichéd reactions ("Congratulations! -- I'll beat you! -- I'll beat him!") embodies the play's irreverent questioning of authenticity.

The second act sends Mary Brigit from her hometown in Ohio to Fire Island, New York. There, she falls in with teenagers who teach her to abandon her fantasy life. It's exactly what the play does not need.

Once Mary Brigit gives up the pregnancy hoax, the play falls apart. The first act's colorful tables give way to barebones realism as Mary Brigit learns to become one of the gang. By the time her new friends let her know that she need not join them in smoking pot and gleefully suggest they all get some candy and Coca-Cola, Mary Brigit Poppleton is Writing a Memoir has become the after-school special that the first act sends up.

In the play's press materials, Walter says she wrote the play in part to create a strong female character, but the second act has Mary Brigit join a history of female characters who require a charismatic, grounded man to rescue them from their own neuroses. That's a shame because Mary Brigit's quirkiness is the source of her charm.

NOTE: This play appears as part of the 2007 New York International Fringe Festival

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