Back to School with “Barbie”
She’s looking good for being 60 years old, and she knows it. In fact, Barbie (Olivia Sargent) greets the audience with that acknowledgment in the first line of her opening monologue. Barbie is indeed having a moment this summer, with Greta Gerwig’s blockbuster film attracting praise from opinion columnists and brickbats from conservatives, guaranteeing its halcyon moment in the sun.
If you’re interested in more Barbienalia, Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill is staging “I Am Barbie” by Walton Beacham for the next two weekends, and it has plenty of Barbie trivia for those whose curiosity was piqued by the movie. There is much talk about Barbie’s creation, imaginings of her social life as a doll, and her cultural impact.
Managing and Artistic Director John Sowle read the playback in 2009 when he was working for StageWorks Hudson and kept it in mind once he opened Bridge Street. They tried to stage the play in 2016 but had difficulty casting it. With the announcement of the movie’s release, they seized on the opportunity to expand on Barbie’s interest and lined up a stellar cast for this late summer pastiche.
Olivia Sargent is lovely in the title role, with a hint of breathiness but a very definite engine driving her meandering search for purpose through the play. Characters (starting with Barbie) address the audience and philosophize about Barbie and their relationship to her. There is an intriguing list of characters who visit Barbie to suss out her worth and meaning, from the obvious, like Ken (a buff, visceral Max Kantor) and her creator Ruth Handler (Amanda Ferguson in her cups), to fanciful encounters with other toys like She-Ra & Skipper (a versatile and smart Natalie Arneson) and G.I. Joe (Kantor with another fully physically imagined performance). Best of all are some loopy celebrity encounters like Annette Funicello (Ferguson) and Britney Spears (Arneson) on the Mickey Mouse Club show, and especially an interview with Danica Patrick, which Amanda Ferguson leans into with a blowsy, been around the track Sang-Froid, which is delicious. Director Rob Maitner has guided his cast to over a dozen sharp characters and, for the most part, kept things moving as best he could.
There are many fun moments and teasing lines that will please your ears, but unfortunately, it’s not much of a play. It is more of a collection of skits and monologues, teasing out thoughts and imaginings centered around Barbie. Still, there is nothing dramatized that interested me or kept me involved from blackout to blackout in Barbie’s quest for meaning. The entertainment is 90 minutes without intermission but may feel longer depending on your interest in this toy’s impact on the world.
John Sowle has created a dream house set that had some weak lighting upstage, and the costumes by Michelle Rogers add to the playful spirit with an able assist by Nellie Gambo on wigs.
So, if you’re looking to reminisce about Barbie, get your picture taken in a toy box in the lobby, or even dress up in one of Barbie’s 139 roles, this evening of camp theater should be on your must-see list.
“I Am Barbie” runs through 9/10 at Bridge Street Theatre. Tickets: www.bridgest.org or 518-943-3894