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The Whatcom Independent
May 17-23, 2007

Irish eyes are smilin'
Idiom show takes on marriage
by Christopher Key

Playing a character onstage for an hour and a half nonstop is a daunting challenge. Playing yourself onstage for an hour and a half is enough to give even the most accomplished actor a case of the yips. Carolyn McCarthy, in her one-woman show "Too Beautiful," makes it look easy. The show was originally scheduled to run last weekend only at the iDiOM Theatre, but sold out before opening night. Two more performances have been added Sunday, May 20, and Sunday, May 27 at 8:00 p.m.

Too Beautiful is subtitled "a new play about love and staying in it." That claim is entirely too modest given the amount of ground McCarthy covers in this powerful reflection on the ten years since she and her "partner" celebrated their commitment to each other. I put quotation marks around the word partner because McCarthy does that as well. What do you call a person with whom you've shared a commitment ceremony, but not legal marriage? McCarthy, with a grin that lights up the house, thinks she might just go back to "boyfriend."

Much of the show is devoted to the institution of marriage as it exists in America today. McCarthy and her boyfriend decided not to participate in the legal form because it deliberately alienates those who are not traditionally gendered. They didn't want to be part of an institution that excludes, by statute, many of their friends.

There are some serious points to be made here, but McCarthy makes them without beating her audience over the head.  No matter how political she gets in her ruminations, the smile in her Irish eyes never goes away. She laughs and cries and invites the audience to join her.

Too Beautiful is also about ceremonies. She pokes fun at some of the non-traditional rites invented by those who cannot stomach the religious rituals rendered meaningless by rote repetition. Yet, as McCarthy admits, we as human beings seem to have an innate need for ceremonies. Indeed, she has created a very moving one with herself as celebrant and the audience as congregation. That said, there is none of the artificial separation between celebrant and congregation that characterizes the hierarchical churches. This is a shared journey because we have all wrestled with the same demons. Or angels. Or partners.

Not only is McCarthy's monologue full of sly good humor and throat-clenching pathos, it also includes music. She has a vibrant voice that she uses to good effect without accompaniment.  Her opening number, a folk classic called "The Water Is Wide," serves to introduce some of the points she wishes to make about marriage, or partnering, or relationships (the problematic terminology is another issue she addresses). This song was sung at her commitment ceremony and the lyrics tell of leaning against an oak, "...but first it bent and then it broke." She and her boyfriend dealt with that by leaving out that verse. The fact is, however, that it rings true for many relationships.

That leads McCarthy into an extended meditation on how to keep the zip in your trip. Her painfully honest admissions regarding fantasies about other men and women will touch a chord with anyone who hasn't been living in a Himalayan cave their entire life. The courage it takes to share these experiences with a group of strangers is breathtaking. Of course, by the end of the show, no one in the audience is a stranger anymore.
I can't think of a better way to define what ceremonies, liturgy, theatre are supposed to do when done well. McCarthy makes the most of that by examining how theatre has replaced church in her life.

One of the richest anecdotes she relates regards a conversation between McCarthy and her boyfriend in which she bewails the thought that he is not an artist. "I am an artist," he replies. "I just don't need to talk about it all the time."

McCarthy does need to talk about it and the audience leaves much richer as a result.

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