Written and Performed by Tiffany Barton; Directed by Helen Doig
Produced by Creative Collaborations
Part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 8.27.16
VENUE #8: WOW Café, 59-61 East 4th Street
by Gabriella Steinberg on 8.22.16
Tiffany Barton in DIVA. Photo by Tony Gawjewski.
BOTTOM LINE: An ex-diva has been too haunted by her past demons to leave her apartment, and today’s the day that changes.
Grey Gardens for one! In Tiffany Barton’s one-woman show, we live a day in the life of June—an agoraphobic ex-opera diva. This day is a special one, for it’s the day she goes outside! (Maybe!)
June had it all: the opera career, the husband, and the fame...until her marriage turned sour underneath her success, then the career fell apart, and her past demons (her toxic mother, her absent father) began to haunt her. But the setup of DIVA, directed by Helen Doig with great passion for detail, provides us with the possibility that June has never been an opera diva. Perhaps it’s all in her dark, cloudy mind, a fantasy she conjures up as a coping mechanism.
I’m impressed with Barton’s sense of structure. Doig and Barton have created June’s whirlwind of a life, reminiscent of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and the aforementioned Grey Gardens. Barton is able to harness a world tipped on its head where her protagonist can ask the Passover question—"Why is this night different from all other nights?" Why on this day does June want to go outside?
June is like Mrs. Haversham sans wealth, hanging by a thread on the memories of her heyday. Throughout her day, June talks to her dead cat (a stuffed animal as a corpse) and her non-existent father. She takes pills, drinks vodka, and masturbates with her rabbit vibrator Mr. Buzzy (her refuge when she gets too down thinking about her failed relationships).
Yet Barton’s ability to paint a clear picture of her character is overshadowed by June’s emotional weight. Barton and Doig make great strides to make their audience feel heartbroken with their agoraphobic, sexualized, and truly sad Diva. But instead of feeling heartbroken with June, I felt too removed watching June spiral to feel much of anything. June may be written to be this unabashed, brutally honest piece of work, but I was just too overwhelmed by June as a character.
Barton overacted to an extreme level, and the play—while mostly structurally sound—becomes an experiment in finding out what crazy thing Crazy June can do for an hour. A lot of June’s antics seem to be cop-outs of how Barton believes “crazy women” behave. She attributes June’s problems to her absent father, and cries out to him in these trite moments that separate her reality, bordering on a parody of itself.
DIVA’s best aspects are its technical elements—Cherie Hewson’s clever cardboard puppet ex-husband, pills in a teapot, etc. While I’m excited about these technical aspects, DIVA is just too packed with information, and seems like craziness for its own sake. The images of June’s possible insanity are ones we’ve seen before: her father left her, therefore she’s unstable. She’s horny, therefore she’s pitiful. She’s agoraphobic, and, oh, how typical. DIVA hopes to rally these conceits to create a fleshed-out June that the audience can recognize, but for me, DIVA often feels trite, predictable, and sometimes offensive.
DIVA is a debaucherous exhibition of a woman’s ailing state of being. I appreciate the efforts it took to create this heartbroken June, but DIVA did not instill a mutual heartbreak with me.
(DIVA plays at VENUE #8: WOW Café, 59-61 East 4th Street, through August 27, 2016. The running time is 1 hour. Performances are Wed 8/17 at 7; Fri 8/19 at 6; Wed 8/24 at 5:15; Fri 8/26 at 8; and Sat 8/27 at 3:15. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc.org. For more information visit tiffanybarton.com.)
DIVA is written and performed by Tiffany Barton. Directed by Helen Doig. Set, Props, and Costume Design are by Cherie Hewson. Sound Design is by Max Porotto. Operatic Vocals by Lucy Byers.