Nora Dunn knows how to tell a story. Particularly when she's telling it from the perspective of a character. From an old-school Hollywood agent to a precocious girl who attends a school for the creatively gifted, Dunn uses these characterizations as a conduit to tell her side of the showbiz story. The side where a shy, "hopelessly Midwestern" girl, such as herself, finds herself ill-equipped for the fast-paced "let's have lunch" Hollywood lifestyle.
It's when she switches back to her persona, Nora Dunn, that the show falters in its footing. That's not to say Dunn, best known for her late '80s-early '90s stint on SNL, isn't an engaging personality -- she's honest, grounded, accessible and immensely likable. No, the problem is she seems least comfortable as herself. Which is oddly fitting, given that her show explores the challenge of being a performer vs. being a personality. And personalities are what make connections and build careers.
Hence why the otherwise talented Dunn is playing at a 99-seat storefront theatre, with relatively little fanfare. She's all about the craft and storytelling, and nothing to do with the pomp and circumstance. Much like her mother, Dunn has little interest in "phonies."
Mythical Proportions, the title of her low-key, and at times, wickedly funny, one-woman show, has great potential. There are zingers and juicy backstage anecdotes (including a harrowing tale involving Tom Arnold and Roseanne Barr) that reveal the dirty underbelly of showbiz. Dunn, a fan of old-school Hollywood glamor, longs for the days of illusion and magic -- but she soon learns that show business is just another way to make a paycheck.
Yes, there's a lot of good material here, but Dunn needs a director to focus her in and find a dramatic arc in her storytelling. Right now, it's a smattering of carefully constructed moments that don't fully hang together into a satisfying whole.
"Mythical Proportions" plays through September 22 at Theater Wit. More info here >
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