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Theater | Theater Review

A Journey Deep Into One's Soul

April 25, 2002|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The attractive and charismatic Sue Turner-Cray conceived a bigger life and pulled herself, like a real-life Shirley Valentine, out of the "prison sentence" of her dead-end industrial hometown of Leicester, England. Her pursuit of more fulfilling possibilities in the international modeling industry during the high-flying 1980s form the basis of "Manchester Girl," an energetic and engaging solo show at the Hudson Mainstage.

Her story ricochets between humorous and tragic extremes, chronicling the transformation of a sweetly trusting young girl into a jaded sophisticate while doing catalog work in Japan, where she learned the hard way that "the rules of home don't apply." What the piece lacks in comparison to more artfully constructed fiction, it more than compensates with the immediacy of personal confession that doesn't flinch from self-criticism.

Tracing her descent into diet pills, drugs and destructive liaisons, the events she describes are a familiar recipe for an insecure psyche who kept looking for validation from others, until finally recognizing her true identity was there all along.

What elevates her story above the monologue-as-therapy cliche are her insightful perceptions and pinpoint characterizations of the bizarre personalities she encountered in her travels. The acting training that Turner-Cray pursued after she quit modeling has paid off handsomely in skillfully rendered voices, mannerisms and body postures of the oafish agency office manager who wanted to keep her in a secretarial position, or the overseas agent who pressures her models to lose weight even as she ceaselessly stuffs herself with food. Best of all are her effortless changes, without losing a conversational beat, into the worldly, brilliant Peruvian lover who opened her cultural horizons.

Lively staging by Amy Wieczoreck puts the hard-working performer through extensive dance and movement workouts, to a wry soundtrack tour of the era's giddy, vacuous rock tunes. Her catwalk strutting with fan-blown hair is a hilarious image, though it's repeated more times than necessary. Nevertheless, despite an unusual running length for a solo performance, Turner-Cray doesn't let us regret a minute spent in her company.

*

"Manchester Girl," the Hudson Mainstage, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends May 12. $15. (323) 856-4200. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.

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