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A One Woman, One Barbie Play

By Gary Wien

originally published: 04/01/2007

The Playwrights Theatre in Madison, New Jersey will present the New Jersey premiere of "When Something Wonderful Ends" by Sherry Kramer in April. The play is affectionately referred to as a 'one-woman, one Barbie play'. That one-woman is Bonnie Black.

The play was recently named one of the top ten theatrical events of 2006 by the Austin Chronicle and was recently read at the Tokyo International Arts Festival. Sherry was working on a production at the Interact Theatre in Philadelphia when we spoke with her. The Interact Theatre production actually overlaps with the Playwrights Theatre production offering her a rare glimpse at how two companies (along with two directors, two stage designers and two actresses) see the same play come to life.

"It will be interesting to see how problems are solved, how meaning is created and to see the same script in two different lights," said Sherry Kramer. "It's pretty exciting."

The play takes a lot of rather weighty subjects and weaves them all together in a very personal way. It deals with such topics as the 1964 SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement with Iran), our passion for Barbie dolls and our nation's thirst for oil with the death of a mother.

"It's hard, things are really confusing now," explained Sherry Kramer. "People are overwhelmed and we just don't know what to do. I started writing it for myself. I'd never even considered writing a one-woman show and I wasn't particularly a fan of a lot of one person shows in general. I think what happened was that I had been taking pictures of my mother's grave. When my father moved away to an independent living place the house in Springfield where I grew up went on the market to be sold and I knew I wouldn't be able to tend to my mother's grave anymore. So I started taking pictures of her grave and the flowers that I brought. My sister said to me, 'you have all these beautiful pictures, you should write a play and use them'"

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Originally Sherry thought that she would be the one acting in the play. When asked if it seems strange hearing such personal words come from someone else she said, "It's always somebody playing me. It's always somebody saying the words I've written. It doesn't feel strange at all, which I actually think is kind of strange!"

The actress saying those words this time around is Bonnie Black. Bonnie is a veteran of New York city theatres and has done several readings at the Playwrights Theatre, but this will be her first true production with the company.

We got a chance to talk with Bonnie before rehearsals even began, which offered us a chance to see how she goes about preparing for a role.

"For me, the more material that is in my bones is the best place for me creatively and to be able to relax," explained Bonnie Black. "So what I've been trying to do before John (Pietrowski) and I get together is try to memorize starting from the top. This deepens my understanding of it. And then every few days I read through from the beginning to the end because I don't want the end to get too far away from my consciousness. The more I understand it - the deeper and deeper I understand it - what I would like the audience to see is effortless. That would be my goal."

While the play deals with some very serious subjects, it's also a very funny play. Bonnie says it's not a play full of one-liners coming at you all of the time, but has very funny moments.

"She's touched on so many things that are global and political and the brilliance of the play is that she weaves the personal and political things together into a very smart, funny, and resonant piece of material. The personal aspect of the play makes it touching, the political part of it obviously is resonant for anybody that's plugged in. A lot of this is serious material that she makes very accessible and very humorous."

"This is a very funny and movie piece," said John Pietrowski, Artistic Director of Playwrights Theatre. "Sherry has successfully managed to talk about a number of important issues facing us, personally and as a country, without becoming preachy or polemical. And Bonnie Black is perfect for this play, she is charming, humorous and intelligent. I am especially happy to have her back Playwrights Theatre."

Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at gary@newjerseystage.com.



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