A stroll down Memory Lane can be a wonderous adventure or a dark and scary pathway. In fact, it is both those things, but people tend to see only the light of experience in the Lane while hiding the fearful shadows that are always a part of the journey.
A Girl Far From Normal by Robyn Bishop-Marin takes us on that stroll down the lanes of her memory, and it is fearsome, delightful, heartfelt, wrenching, and funny. Matthew Harrison’s direction allows Bishop-Marin to engage in a conversation with the audience. It is a technique that allows, as he puts it, for her “courage, humility, and passion” to shine and share some deeply personal aspects of her life. The play is, in a sense, a romantic comedy, in the grand tradition of those types of shows. Still, it is also a revelatory therapeutic journey into how the rom-com idea is a pale substitute for reality. It is a play that will take you on a journey into your places of light and dark, but do it with empathy and compassion for what a daunting trip can be. It will be worth your while to spend some time with Robyn.
The story is based on journals Bishop-Marin has kept since she was 13 years old. She started writing them when her parents were divorcing and continues to write in them while trying to manage the chaos that is a part of everyone’s life. Sharing that idea with the audience is an effective step in developing a bond with those people. It is reaching out to engage their humanity. It is a message to the audience that she is no different than they are with all the struggles involved in living an active life.
Her story starts with the revelation that after 37 years of what was for her, a happy and fulfilling marriage was not viewed that way by her husband Leo.
He told her he wanted to take a marriage vacation, leaving her at the dock as he sailed away. At 56, she is left with a bitter ending to what she thought was a romantic comedy or romance movie. She begins to muse about what her favorite leading ladies would do if they got dumped by their partners. She took her journaling to a new level in the writing down of her life to work through the emotional chaos she felt.
Bishop-Marin effectively shares the ups and downs she worked through to find her way in this alien landscape of being alone. After all, she was a successful businesswoman who owned some yoga studios. She tells us that she was living her dream romance movie with her own business, children, a wonderful house, and a dear and, as it turned out, a not-so-devoted husband.
She takes us on a journey through the horrors of her childhood leading up to and following her parents’ divorce. Alongside her philosophical rants, she lays bare the raw, honest, funny, and humiliating events in her life. Throughout the monologue, she makes costume changes and moves the few props to prepare for and use as the story unfolds. Her use of projections on an upstage screen is good at helping support the actions she is taking us through.
Her husband Leo appears at a couple of critical points in the monologue. First, sitting in the audience, and then in a dream sequence, he appears in the aisle in his pajamas. Malcolm Stewart does a superb job of creating the surprise and tension that an unexpected and unwanted person would bring to such a revelatory undertaking. It is an intrusion that clarifies much of the emotional chaos being explored by Bishop-Marin.
In the end, Robyn Bishop-Marin emerges triumphant and whole. She has taken us on a therapeutic journey into what makes her who she is and does it in a way that impacts anyone with an awareness of the frailties of the human psyche. If you see it, be prepared to encounter glimpses of your Memory Lane.
A Girl Far From Normal (through July 22, 2023)
SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit https://ci.ovationtix.com/35583/production/1162422
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission