Los Angeles Theater Review: UN-RULE-LEE (Elephant Theatre Lab in Hollywood)

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by Jason Rohrer on May 25, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles


I came to this show in a bad mood and left in a better one, which is as much praise as I can heap on a one-woman show about identity issues. There’s no theatrical fauna I want more sincerely to see on the endangered list, and none that looks less likely to die off. So Un-Rule-Lee is a testament to Lee Sherman’s winning personality and acting chops, as well as to Tony Gatto’s straightforward, energetic pacing. Especially as a showcase for the performer’s castability, this show works very well.

Sherman grew up tall, black and female with green eyes in a large house in the Colorado suburbs, with a hardworking computer-pioneer mother and a philandering father. Yes, she has driven her own path and yes, she’s picked some losers among her romantic partners. Yes, she played basketball but no, she never dated a pro ballplayer. Yes, she modeled and graduated summa cum laude. Yes, she Un-Rule-Leeimage1had in many ways a privileged and idyllic childhood, but there were also bullies of multiple races (“You’re black,” “You’re not black enough”) and a molester uncle. Yes, people have always tried to pigeonhole her, especially since she got to Hollywood, and no, she has not allowed it. Yes, she writes and plays a small variety of characters from her life with credibility and assurance. And yes, for better or worse, she attends to the rules of the feature-length soliloquy with all the respect she does not afford the rules society tries to place upon her.

In short, what the audience sees before it is a strong, beautiful, young-looking 40ish woman, pleasant to spend time with, secure in her skin and unashamed of what she’s made of herself. To frequenters of the self-promotional auto-therapeutic solo drama genre, almost the only surprise in 90 minutes will be the absence of substance-abuse trauma. With one poetic, all-too-brief exception near the end, Sherman’s writing feels like what it is, an early effort from a relatively new writer (this is a premiere production, though the show’s germinal roots are about a decade old).

The question of narcissism that such monologues raise is answered incompletely; there’s a relative lack of larger human themes and why-am-I-telling-you-this reflection growing from the personal story. But, again, the performance is charming enough that if you’re not jaded by the ubiquity of similar pieces, and if you share any of the personal journey here narrated, you’ll get something good from coming to see it.

Given the technical requirements necessitated by a staccato and episodic structure, Un-Rule-Lee pushes the Elephant Lab’s technical capacities just past capacity, and it is to producer-director Gatto’s credit that this isn’t too distracting. He has done a good job spicing the text with interesting theatrical punctuation, and if some of the emotional crescendos could be better ramped in the staging, this is as much the fault of a text more interested in its tangents than in its arc. At the risk of embodying one of Sherman’s many patriarchal, race- and gender-prejudiced foils, I will posit from experience that professionals habitually seeking actors have few enough literate, multi-character-ready women of color on their books that they would do well to investigate this one.

Elephant Theatre Lab
1076 Lillian Way in Hollywood
Fri and Sat at 8
ends on May 30, 2015
for tickets, visit www.BrownPaperTickets.com

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