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From A to Double D: An Original New Play
Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of seeing the play From A to Double D at The PIT LOFT in Chelsea. Written by Mandy Murphy, the play is about a young woman named Devon, who is auctioning off her bras from various stages of her life. The bras range from white cotton training bras to sheer black double Ds from Victoria's Secret. Each audience member is handed an auction paddle as they enter the theater. And throughout the show, audience members "bid" on the bras, as a dashing Texan auctioneer leads the auction. The bras range in price from one hundred dollars to twenty five thousand, and although the auction is fake, the costly price tags gave me some serious anxiety. My paddle remained firmly in my lap.
Between these auctions, we are shown scenes from Devon's life relating to her breasts. In one scene, she is in elementary school, noticing her blossoming breasts for the first time. In another scene, Devon is in middle school, and her best friend Brennan yells at her in a fit of jealousy. Brennan wishes her breasts weren't so small, and were large like Devon's. And later, we see the two best friends in high school, sipping vodka and skipping gym class as Devon talks about her intense dislike of wearing bras.
We see Devon's growth as a character through her relationship with her own breasts. And it is a complicated relationship: she resents how large her breasts are, and how their conspicuousness makes her a target for teasing and bullying at school. The playwright wants to show her audience the burden that breasts can be on a woman, and how the state of a woman's breasts can affect her friendships, romantic relationships, and standing in society.
And Mandy Murphy meets this goal successfully; the play has a lot going for it. One of the strongest elements of the show is the casting. Lexie Speirs is spot-on in the role of Devon's best friend, Brennan. She portrays Brennan with great innocence and youthful self-doubt, which gives Ms. Murphy's text real tenderness. You cannot help but empathize with Brennan for desperately wanting to fit in with the cool kids at school, and for her insecurity about having small breasts. We have all known a Brennan from high school, or have been one ourselves.
Tepper Saffren also delivers a very strong performance in the role of Matthew, Devon's nerdy but handsome boyfriend. The range of Mr. Saffren's performance is impressive: he starts the play as a sweet awkward boy, and ends it as a confident young man. You see both his early insecurities, and charming swagger as he grows into manhood. He also does a great job of showing Matthew's kindness: when he tells Devon that her breasts are beautiful, you believe it. You believe that you are seeing a man who is in love. It is difficult to transport an audience of forty-five in a black box theatre to a relationship's most intimate moments, but Mandy Murphy (in the role of Devon), and Mr. Saffren do it with great authenticity.
The play falls short, however, in its structure. The conceit of the auction feels irrelevant, and interrupts the flow of Devon's story. Although the auction is a fun theatrical device, it fails to add anything to the play's central purpose, and distracts from the important themes and scenarios Ms. Murphy is introducing. The broad comedy, and Texan drawl of the auctioneer feels completely different from the style and flow of the other scenes, and makes us feel as if we're in an entirely different play. Although the auction scenes do a good job of introducing the bras from the different stages of Devon's life, one feels that the bras could be introduced in a better way.
The ending also needs work. Without giving too much away, the end of the play deals with breast cancer. What Ms. Murphy had to say about breast cancer is poignant, and compelling. But the breast cancer plot line feels tacked on like an afterthought at the end of the play. The issue does not get the attention it deserves, and the final scene with one of the characters in a hospital bed feels abrupt with no resolution. And although I love plays without a resolution, this play's ending did not feel deliberately unresolved. It feels unfinished, like a half-baked cake, or a house without a roof. I felt like there was more to the final scene than the playwright explored.
But in spite of these shortcomings, there's a lot that is strong about Mandy Murphy's writing. Ms. Murphy has a knack for making her dialogue sound easy and authentic, as if the words could be spoken in real life. She captures the awkwardness and pain of youth with great honesty, and paints four very specific, unique characters with her writing. In one very courageous scene, Ms. Murphy stares at herself in front of the mirror, and wonders if a person can ever truly see themselves in the reflection before them. She wonders how people truly see her, and worries about whether she is fat or thin, ugly or beautiful. The audience's intent listening during this speech made me feel that many people saw themselves in Ms. Murphy's raw, truthful text.
Walking out of the theatre, I felt grateful to have seen From A to Double D. Its well-drawn characters, easy dialogue, and relatable themes make it worth the price of admission. And while I have issue with the auction scenes, using bras to introduce various stages of a character's life is a clever, original device. I would be interested to see future productions of this work as Mandy Murphy continues to refine, and revise her script. Overall, From A to Double D is a fresh, original work that is worth paying attention to.
From A to Double D by Mandy Murphy plays through October 29th at the PIT LOFT at 154 West 29th St. in New York, NY. Tickets are $15, and can be found here:
© 2017 Mark Nimar