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Review – an actual one

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This is from The Austinist, by freelance writer Dan Solomon who came to see the show on opening night. Hard to believe it was a week ago.

It’s not a bad review, in fact it’s a pretty decent and fair one, especially in the first half. He ignores a lot of the opening night mishaps and has given me plenty to think about if I decide to restage the show. Plus he uses words like ‘brave’ and ‘delightful’ and calls it an ‘impressive solo performance’, which of course will feature heavily in any future Gallant promotions, regardless of the activity.

Most important to me, he calls it a ‘clever and affecting script’ and that pretty much sums up my original aim. I admit that I’m not a performer at heart. For me it’s always secondary to the writing process and my commitment to acting, in terms of taking classes and improving my ‘craft’, is pretty weak. If I could get audience members to pay to come and sit in the theatre and read my script while drinking wine, I happily would. But maybe that’s not entirely true. There’s a part of me that relishes being onstage and having everyone look at me and listen to me. If only the rather pathetically insecure 13 year old me had known that. Just kidding, who would I be without my angst-ridden solo shows?

Here’s the review:

Review: Don’t Stop Me Now at City Theater

Maggie Gallant knows that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who understand their favorite band as a spiritual force that communicates important things about life to those listeners who are truly prepared to hear them, and those who don’t know anything about anything.

Don’t Stop Me Now, Gallant’s one-woman show, is a tribute to the former group. And, of course, to Queen.

Delivered as both a series of soliloquies to Freddie Mercury (and occasionally Roger Taylor) and as a handful of short scenes in which Gallant portrays every character, Don’t Stop Me Now is the story of Sonya Moore, “the number one Queen fan in the universe.” We follow her through early adolescence in the mid-70’s until the 2002 opening of We Will Rock You, the London stage musical based on the band’s music.

It’s a brave performance by Gallant, who’s unafraid to leap from character to character and scene to scene, with little in the way of exposition. She jumps from bedroom to classroom to a shopping trip with her mother, expecting the audience to follow along as she does little more than move a few feet, adjust her posture, and shift an octave in her voice as she switches from Sonya, to her class bully, to her mother. It’s a rewarding experience for an audience that might have otherwise been underestimated—the play wastes little time exploring the different facets of Sonya’s adolescence.

Gallant is subtle and insightful as she explores that adolescence as well. She intuitively transitions Sonya from a 13-year-old who wishes that Freddie Mercury was her father, to a 16-year-old with a crush on Roger Taylor, keeping the focus ostensibly on Queen, but functionally on growing up. And she’s delightful as she portrays the teenage Sonya, who’s charming, lost, and fun to watch.

It’s as Sonya grows up that the play loses momentum, and, as is the inherent risk of the one person performance, once that’s gone, there’s not really any way to bring it back. As Sonya reaches college age and justifies farting through life because Freddie Mercury was a slacker until his mid-twenties, the show starts to become a drag.

It’s clear that Gallant was a lot less confident in the latter part of the show, because the scattershot storytelling approach that made the first half so much fun is abandoned in favor of “Oh, Freddie!”-style monologues where she simply narrates how much her life has become a disappointment, rather than using the characters she’d proven so adept at creating to show us. As the show drags and becomes so focused on telling, it doesn’t play into Gallant’s strengths as a performer. It becomes frustrating to watch her pass natural ending point after natural ending point (Sonya’s graduation, Queen’s Live Aid performance, Freddie Mercury’s death, etc) in pursuit of a resolution that the lack of tension in the script never leaves the audience craving.

The Summer Acts festival at City Theater is a place to try new work, and Gallant can certainly be forgiven for putting on a show that’s conceptually strong, and a powerhouse for its first 45 minutes, but that doesn’t so much end as it farts out. At an hour, Don’t Stop Me Now might effectively highlight Gallant’s clever and affecting script and impressive solo performance, driving home its point of Sonya’s one-sided relationship with the band before it becomes exhausting. As it is, it’s not a bad play—just one in need of a radio edit.

The Summer Acts festival runs through July 19th at City Theater.