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Theatre in Review. L.O.V.E.R. (Pershing Square Signature Center)

Lois Robbins. Photo: Joan Marcus.

Lois Robbins' solo show begins with her slumped over the washing machine in a state of post-coital bliss. As it happens, her first serious relationship was with the aforementioned appliance. At a very early age -- I mean prekindergarten -- she discovered that if she pressed herself up against one of the machine's sharp corners while in operation, it would quickly deliver the sensation she called "the feeling." (The word "orgasm" came much later.) Not that Robbins rushed into anything; she had many flirtations with the rest of the family furniture -- both hard and soft -- before discovering this reliable source of Whirlpool-induced sensations. Robbins came from a large family, so the washer was in fairly constant use, offering her the perfect combination of motive and opportunity. Apparently, the spin circle was the best.

Well, I bet you haven't heard that one before -- not in a theatre, anyway. (Actually, to hear a really funny account of female masturbation, I commend to you the film Booksmart. You'll never look at a stuffed panda in the same way again. But I digress.) It is, however, the last surprise on offer. Usually, this sort of confessional memory piece is centered about a profound personal challenge, social issue, or obsession. This is the tale of an unremarkable life, unremarkably told. It isn't terrible so much as it is mystifying.

As Robbins notes, it wasn't long before she discarded such inanimate pleasures for those offered by the opposite sex. The first half of L.O.V.E.R. covers her scatterbrained, boy-crazy ways of her twenties. To paraphrase Yip Harburg, when she wasn't near the boy she loved, she loved the boy she was near. The parade includes Stiler, an Iowa farm boy (her Long Island Jewish parents put the kibosh on him); Ronald, who expertly deflowered her; Ed, who was in show business and drank too much; Peter, "a star on the rise...pun intended;" Barry, Catholic, Hollywood royalty, and part of an antisemitic crowd; and the doctor, affectionately nicknamed Charlie One-Ball, because do I really have to say? There are others, but you get the idea; they come and go, popping in and out like cuckoos in a clock, none of them making any impression, since Robbins is only interested in the effect each of them had on her.

The second half focuses on Robbins' life with Arthur, her prince of a husband -- and not just because he has to be part of this script. Marriage and parenthood don't yield much more in the way of wit or insight; indeed, she morphs into a cliché Jewish mother, doting on her son and forever fighting with her intransigent daughter, so much so that she yearns for grandchildren who will drive the young lady crazy. I bet you never heard that one before.

Among other things, Robbins offers a lusty rendition of her summer camp song ("I go to Cayuga so pity me/There's no cute boys in the vicinity"). She takes a photo of the audience, commanding us to say "orgasm" before posting the image on Instagram. She goes on girls-only trips and climbs a mesa all by herself, before concluding, "Intimacy with myself is how I achieve true intimacy with everyone else." The one sequence that stands out among the platitudes is, sadly, her account of her bout with breast cancer; she doesn't shy away from describing her creeping terror, followed by her too-determined attempts at bouncing back after surgery. But, all too soon, she is back to dropping lame cracks about wanting to crawl into Roger Federer's sneakers.

Robbins, a busy television actress, is an affable presence, and if Karen Carpenter's direction is on the busy and frantic side, perhaps it is better not to give the audience members too much time to think about these tiresome sexcapades. The production has a simple, but largely effective, design package. Jo Winiarski's set, a stairway draped in white muslin, is made especially attractive by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew's parade of color washes. Jane Shaw's inventive sound design begins with a preshow playlist that includes "Feel Like Makin' Love," "Love Hangover," and Jacques Brel's "La Valse à Mille Temps" and goes on to include ambient party noises, birdsong, and thunder.

Even as a ladies'-night entertainment, however, L.O.V.E.R. is pretty thin stuff. Marketed as a sexy comedy, it is really just a grab bag of observations, bits of this and that wrapped up in a woozy self-empowerment theme. Not every life is the stuff of stage entertainment. --David Barbour

(10 September 2019)

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