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Becoming Adele

Eric Houston's engaging one-woman show gets an added lift from star Kimberly Stern. logo
Kimberly Stern in Becoming Adele
(© Ben Storthmann)
For some time now, we've had the terms "chick flick" and "chick lit" to indicate movies and novels aimed at women. But there's no corresponding phrase for theater pieces with similar purposes. Maybe it's time someone drummed up "Chick script." For it's the perfect term to be applied to Eric Houston's engaging solo piece Becoming Adele, in which the plump eponymous character delivers three sequential monologues about how over time she fulfills the title's promise -- or at least begins to.

Adele (Kimberly Stern) first makes herself known in 1990 when she emerges from the roof door of an Upper West Side Manhattan low-rise she's moved into with hubby Doogy Scabaglio. (Antje Ellermann designed the convincing brick-and-tar-paper locale; Myrna Colley-Lee designed Adele's shapeless sweater and equally shapeless house dress.) Describing Doogy as "the biggest jerk in high school, she explains he's late coming home and she's locked out of the apartment. To kill time, she tells her story to date, which includes background info about having only recently moved from Brooklyn where she works in her tyrannical father's butcher shop.

Returning at dawn six years later to what might be considered "a doll's roof" (in deference to the Henrik Ibsen-esque theme), Adele explains she hasn't slept all night. She is experiencing first-day terrors, because she's taken a wait-staff job at a fancy restaurant in order to support her four-year-old daughter, Sarah, now that the philandering Doogy has died in a truck accident under dubious circumstances She also needs friends,and finds one in Glenn, a gay restaurant manager who helped her land the job.

Adele's next rooftop appearance is in the summer of 2001, when she's bidding farewell to the building and neighborhood. She explains why, mentioning her rise up the eating-establishment ladder. She also reports an on-again-off-again romance with a patron named Scott Wolkowitz.

Whereas serious literature challenges the reader or observer, everything "chick"-oriented is intended to be reassuring; and this is certainly true of Becoming Adele. Although the character encounters set-backs on her home and career path, things eventually come right as rain. Adele may not have the kind of Kirstie Alley weight loss that requires its own blog coverage, but she spiffs herself up admirably through both determination and lucky breaks. Adele's ascending spirits may be predictable, but Stern embodies them with spunk.

Often sounding like a teleconference among Tyne Daly, Tracey Ullman, and Ethel Merman, Stern has the right kind of grit, humor, and New York chutzpah to make Adele believable and sympathetic. Seemingly plain as the grey sweater she wears initially, Stern makes you nod your head in agreement when Adele encounters a woman on a subway who tells her, "You're so young and beautiful." In time, her Adele lives up to the adjective "becoming" as well as to the gerund. And Stern is certainly prepared for the paces director Victor Moag puts her through in accordance with the keep-'em-moving rules of solo shows.

When Adele first arrives, she's carrying a brown paper bag that contains her guilty pleasures: Ring Dings. Becoming Adele eventually dings its own guiltily pleasurable ring.

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