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It's Theatre That Colors In The Blanks.

By Margaret Regan

FEBRUARY 15, 1999:  WHAT HAPPENS WHEN a whiter-than-white baby gets adopted into a family of double-strength American ethnics? Rachel, the fictional heroine of Carrie Hill's one-woman play Try These on for Size, is the pale outsider in a dark New York family whose Jewish genes are spliced with Sicilian. Seems Bubba Iris fell hard for Grandpa Luigi at a high-school dance, and ever since the Meyerwitz-Turco clan has been bonding at high decibels, more often than not over a mixed platter of manicotti and knishes.

Hill wrote the script and acts every part in her hour-long production at the Temple's Cabaret Theatre. Directed by T. Greg Squires, it's a funny/sad show divided into a series of sketches that gives Bloodhut veteran Hill a chance to show off her acting. She moves fluidly from character to character in Rachel's extended clan, variously dropping or upping the register of her voice, assuming a manly stance or aping the precarious body language of female adolescence. Hill modifies her basic black-tights outfit with an apron for angry Mom, a big shirt for arty Uncle Louie, and a slutty jacket for troubled cousin Nicki.

Moving through a simple set of versatile boxes, with a cutout of the New York City skyline as backdrop, Hill builds her story gradually, hinting at the big picture through the impersonations of six of Rachel's favorite relatives. The most lovable--and effective--is feisty Bubba Iris. Decked out in mourning black hat and overcoat, Bubba dispenses nuggets of life's wisdom at her husband's coffin, first looking him over and yelling, "Oh, no, he doesn't look so good." (She's insisted on a multicultural funeral: He's embalmed and laid out in an open casket in the Temple; later she'll sit Shiva.)

"He walked me home," she remembers of the long-ago dance where they met, "and he didn't try to kiss me. After that he was an animal, he couldn't keep his hands off me...And that's the way it should be."

But nobody else in the family seems to have managed such a long, loving and sturdy relationship. Rachel seems to have figured out the reasons: We learn why Mom is angry, why Uncle Lou didn't pursue a life in the theatre, why his three daughters, deprived of their dad's attention, became women who can't love men.

But what of Rachel? Where are her anecdotes? Even in a play that's ostensibly about her life, Rachel pales next to the colorful characters of her family. Hill has bookended the production with some spoken metaphors about theatre and life, which Rachel delivers to the audience directly. She says theatre has helped color in her blanks, that the rush of live drama "makes me feel less white," less invisible. Yet Rachel's extended family are the scene stealers here. She still hasn't managed to make herself known.


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