Losing It begins with a tantrum. Madeleine Russell, the play’s author and star, storms on stage, bellows, and throws a chair, a stack of books, some trash and a potted plant to the ground. She comes close to chucking a laptop before calming down. It was, needless to say, an abrasive start and, frankly, I was skeptical. Would this play would be more yelling than acting? I am happy to report that, over the next hour, Russell did a lot to win me over.
This one-woman show follows Russell’s autobiographical counterpart Mary as she faces the trials and tribulations of her first job out of college. She is learning how to deal with a troublesome boss and a budding office romance with the new guy in HR. She’s struggling with all the awkwardness of pretending to be an adult when she doesn’t feel like one. On top of that, she’s trying to figure out what it means to be a 22 year-old virgin in a world where that is surprisingly rare. It’s a lot to take on (in a play or in life) and Russell and Director Branda Lock tackle these issues with patience, grit, and a healthy dose of humor. The result is a poignantly human take on the age old “wide-eyed-innocent-takes-on-the-big-city” trope. The play didn’t have so many deep things to say, but it said its piece thoughtfully.
As with many of my favorite Fringe shows, I’d be excited to see this play again after another revision or two. The beginning, especially, was a bit choppy, and a thoughtful editor might help to rearrange some of the pertinent information to make the exposition less confusing. It’s hard to tell until about 25 minutes in what Mary’s relationship is with Ben (the HR guy) and if her virginity is by choice, by religious decree, or by a dearth of offers. Hinting at these important facts earlier would have cleared things up a bit for me. In another example, for the entire play, Russell talks directly to the audience, including us in the action. It reminded me of “Saved by the Bell” (oh, how I miss Zach). Unlike SBTB’s “time-out”, Losing It does not make the rules of this convention clear enough from the beginning, so it’s hard to tell for the first half of the play whether this is intentional or just lazy writing. When it’s used well (when she asks us to wait while she takes a call) it’s quite funny, but I wish it had been a bit more fleshed out.
Russell has written some wonderfully witty lines. I even think she could have played them for more effect. With some of her funnier bits, I really wanted to feel like she had just made them up on the spot, not like they were scripted. She makes a great joke about a high pitched voice that can only be heard by “sensitive NASA equipment” but her delivery could have been more natural. I get the impression that she is a genuinely funny person and I’d like for her jokes to feel more conversational and sarcastic. She could get more mileage with them.
Losing it tackles some interesting issues in our modern world. It may not be anything groundbreaking, but it’s thoughtful, and I like that. We got off to a rough start, but there were some uniquely wonderful moments after that. The show ends with a scene that is remarkably heartfelt and as nuanced as any I’ve seen in any Fringe show. Russell has a good piece of theater here, and I think there’s a lot she can do with it. I look forward to seeing what she does next.
Written, and performed by Madeleine Russell
Directed by Branda Lock
Reviewed by Josh Fixler (aka 20Something)
Read all the reviews and check out the full Capital Fringe schedule here.
Did you see the show? What did you think?