Lusia Strus’ compelling solo show is modern in most ways, especially her predilection for unflinching personal confessions and ability to make them very funny. Yet it also draws on time-honored principles of oral storytelling. The result is a strikingly well-written and flawlessly performed piece. The show began as a commission from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater in 2002 when she was about to get married for the first time, but the production has evolved as her life has. Thus, as her biography sheet puts it, there is now “bonus divorce material!” The beginning half of the show remains exactly as it was created, introducing the audience to Strus through her reflections, as she prepared to marry, on what wedding vows really mean. This leads her to relate her Ukrainian immigrant parents’ story: their two-date courtship followed by years of quiet devotion until her father’s relatively young death. The show’s second half brings the audience up to date, since regardless of her best intentions when saying her own vows, Strus and her husband divorced in 2004, in circumstances she describes honestly but briefly, the pain still clear in her voice.
Throughout the show, she frequently repeats certain key lines, lending them a lyrical effect and evoking the ancient bards who incorporated such phrases or descriptive epithets to help them memorize epics. Also, while Strus mostly stands still or perches on a stool on the bare stage, she uses a few simple gestures multiple times, enriching the minimalist setting. She has excellent stage presence, using her gaze to reach to the back of the house and draw everyone in. Most important is her polished yet emotional delivery of her mother Eugenia’s story – as when Eugenia kneels at her husband’s casket screaming at him for leaving her – and her own, as when she recounts details of her simultaneously deteriorating marriage and state of mind and how her rage and confusion were manifested in trips to Home Depot to buy bread.
In spite of the tough situations that comprise the subject matter, the production is often very funny. Strus might still be in pain over some of her problems, but she laughs at herself and her craziness makes the audience laugh with her. While anyone who enjoys autobiographies will love it ain’t no fairytale, even skeptics and those weary of the genre will likely be won over by Strus’ hard-won, skillfully articulated insights.