Children of alcoholics are at significantly greater risk of exposing others to an unfortunate self-penned solo show about their life experiences — at least according to a 2011 faux research study published in the Onion. Although couched as satire, the thesis all too frequently rings true. Exhibit A: the deadly earnest "Death Play," Lisa Dring's one-woman autobiographical performance piece at Atwater Village Theatre.
Passion and conviction abound in this free-associative, nonlinear chronicle of Dring's rocky relationships with her deceased forebears — a disapproving grandmother, subservient mom and, yes, alcoholic father. Amid the episodic specificity, though, there's very little in the way of broader resonance. Potentially fruitful cultural aspects of her story — her mixed-race parentage, for example, or her grandmother's time in a World War II internment camp for Japanese Americans — receive barely a passing mention.
Despite Jessica Hanna's visually impressive staging, the whole undertaking plays like a laundry list of the worst sins the solo show format is heir to. Artificial reenactments of both sides of conversations, narration laced with pop psychology platitudes, awkward dance movement, exaggerated stages-of-life characterizations from wailing infant to free-spirited maiden to decrepit crone, and unshakable faith in the self-evident importance of personal history — such are the kinds of banalities that give even bad theater a bad name.