Mommie Dearest

Young Christine, we are informed by her mother, is in tears backstage, paralyzed at the thought of performing in her first ever one-woman show. Her mother, admittedly stalling for time, berates her Filipino-American daughter for having become spoiled by American culture, and entertains the audience with stories of Christine’s childhood. She pauses to check on Christine and we hear her, behind the curtain, reprimanding her daughter for her fragility. In the ironically titled, I Am Nothing Like My Mother, Christine Corpuz, who appears to be only in her mid-twenties, has credibly transformed herself, with little more than a pair of bifocals, a red blazer, a skirt, and a thick Filipino accent, into her own mother.

Her mother’s repeated references to Christine’s nervousness soon ring tediously modest because Christine always eventually emerges, composed and without a hint of distress, from behind the curtain.

Ms. Corpuz deftly transforms herself into a variety of characters who proceed to tell their stories, some poignant, others comic. Some she pulls off; others don’t work, despite valiant attempts. For example, her portrayal of a down-on-his-luck man begging for change at a pay phone is too much of a stretch—she just can’t conjure up a masculine voice. And she is simply too voluptuous to play Chloe, a schoolgirl, dressed in leotards and a Mickey Mouse sweat shirt, struggling to understand her parents’ deteriorating marriage. The cutesy voice and outfit come off, unintentionally, as more creepy than moving.

Fortunately, though, most of Ms. Corpuz’s characters work, particularly her portrayal of a vulnerable twenty-something drunk-dialing her ex-boyfriend only to find out that he has become engaged to someone else. As “Miss California,” Corpuz is asked to deliver a message to today’s college students. She unleashes a blistering political and social tirade that one only wishes a real “Miss California” could muster the courage to rant. The range of emotions this gifted young actress can summon is formidable.

Ms. Corpuz wrote the entire show and her writing skills are promising. I Am Nothing Like My Mother is essentially a showcase for Corpuz, constructed to demonstrate her fierce talents. Forget the fact that we really have no idea who some of the characters are or how they relate to her mother’s affectionate diatribes about Christine. It’s almost as if Ms. Corpuz has assembled all the characters she has portrayed, or perhaps even practiced, in her brief acting career and woven a very loose basket within which to present them. She sometimes repeats the same part in a different voice—docile in this one, aggressive in the next.

Is Ms. Corpuz demonstrating her remarkable range or cobbling material together? Sometimes it’s difficult to tell. And, while the audience hears much of what Ms. Corpuz’s mother thinks of her daughter, I would have loved to hear more of Ms. Corpuz’s views on her mother and culture.

Despite these quirks, however, once I accepted that this is a dramatic variety show rather than a necessarily coherent tale, Ms. Corpuz became a delight to watch, with unmistakable talent. See this show to become acquainted with a fine new actress. Get to know Ms. Corpuz (and her mom) now, since I have no doubt we will see her gracing New York stages for years to come.

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