Lewisville — This week, with the North Texas opening of her one-woman show, Sweater Curse: A Yarn About Love, presented by Our Productions Theatre Company at the MCL Grand Theater in Lewisville, well-known critic Elaine Liner takes center stage as the actor, leaving us to be her critics.
So, should an actor become a critic, and should a critic become an actor? Or are those roles so sanctimonious that the lines should not be crossed?
As a performer/critic, I think that they can be crossed; the best critics are the ones who have lived the life onstage at some point, the ones who have known the gut-wrenching fear that the stage can hold. After seeing Liner’s Sweater Curse, I still hold that statement to be true.
Simple, honest, discreet and occasionally irreverent, Liner’s very personal show (which first premiered at the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe) tracks her ups-and-downs in love and respects all the traditions and customs of oral storytelling while upending the ritual to give us an engaging and relatable show, directed by Tim Hedgepeth. Her career as a writer affords her this opportunity—she’s been the theater critic for the Dallas Observer since 2001, a media critic for a number of other news outlets, and a professor of writing and criticism at Ohio State University and Southern Methodist University. She also co-founded TheaterJones.com, and was actively involved with this site until 2010. She knows how to turn a phrase, construct an endearing story, and when to break the rules.
Just when you thought she was going to take the easy way out and not let the work become too intimate, like when she rolls out a clothing rack of tacky thrift store Christmas sweaters deconstructing their use of acrylic yarn and sequins, or her predictably borderline jaded comments about men and their Internet porn, Home Depot-obsessed ways, she pulls you back in. Her stories about failed romances—some funny, some sad—have you laughing and crying with her.
While we witnessed a masterful display of her literary training, we were also privy to just what can happen when you immerse yourself in an art form: it becomes you. Now with the tables turned on her, Liner takes up one of the most daunting tasks facing any actor: the solo show and maintaining authenticity while breaking through the fourth wall. It is a skill to tell a personal story without making it self-indulgent, and Liner accomplishes this.
When the story was sad, she was sad. When it took a happy turn, we smiled along with her. On a simple set of yarn-bombed chairs and knitting paraphernalia (by Liner, with additional scenic design by Joseph Cummings), she knits and weaves together an intimate and simple story that very well could have fallen apart if she had not been so present.
But is there a happy ending? Will Liner’s end be like the parable of Penelope and Ulysses that begins her show? What I will let you in on is that knitting is an act of love, and that we should let it flow naturally. While she knits, unravels, knits and repeats, Liner tells you just what can happen when you let life take over.
» As a guest columnist, Liner chronicled her experience at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for TheaterJones. Here is the final entry, which links to the other three.
» Danielle Georgiou is a choreographer, dancer and freelance writer based in Dallas. Her column Sixth Position will start running monthly in January 2014 on TheaterJones.com