The show: "Lucky Me" at Off Broadway Theatre in New Haven.
First impressions: At the end of the premiere of this solo show by Sachi Parker, Shirley MacLaine's 56-year-old daughter, the audience is likely to feel as dazed, confused and full of contradictory feelings as she is.
A likable persona with flashes of her mother's twinkle and bite, Parker has an unusual upbringing to share. The child of an open and long-distance marriage, Parker was born in the U.S., raised in Japan by her aloof father, vacationed in Malibu or on location with her tough and tender Mom, then sent off to boarding schools in London and Switzerland. Oddjobs and romances in Hawaii, Australia, and all over the world as a Qantas stewardess followed. And that only takes us to her 20s.
But do all these tales of globetrotting, culture clashes, interplanetary escapades and parental disappointments and abandonment add up? The big picture is blurred by the yin and yang of Parker's eagerness to please and her resilience and independence.
While this I-love-you, you-damaged-me, now-change motif is e sometimes fascinating, mostly frustrating, and sometimes just too much in its emotional neediness. The piece needs sharpening and shaping to feel focused and assured. Its heroine needs to be in control of the message and meaning of her story,
Interplanetary escapades?: We are talking about the universe according to Shirley here — in more ways than one. Parker ups the cosmic ante with a revelation about her parents that's a jaw-dropper involving secret government projects involving cloning and extraterrestrials, subsidized by a movie star.
Well, it still sounds like there are some tasty tales: Yes, but it's a question of presentation. The show, written with Fred Stroppel, gets off to a rocky start with a perky Parker diving pell mell into her cast of characters and globe-hopping stories. If you haven't read her her juicy memoir published earlier this year you can get lost. She starts speedily telling her far-flung anecdotes before we get to know who she is. As the show goes on you get the feeling that's her struggle too.
The Asian-elegant setting of screens suggests an intriguing cross-cultural life and the potential for elevating her work beyond being a celebrity tell-all. But the exploration of her divided, counter-point worlds comes in fits and starts, never achieving a unified whole.
When she speaks of her mother's leadership in the women's movement, while Parker is being raised to be a subservient creature, there is a good moment. But she drops that thread and zips along to her next story.
And there are some doozies: Yes, her international life is pretty wild and nicely staged with visual variety by Douglas Moser. But after a while, even these tales grow wearisome as parental themes start to repeat. We get it that MacLaine is a self-absorbed movie star who is oblivious, obsessive, demanding, distrustful and tight with a buck. And that her father is gruff and dismissive, disconnected to his daughter.
She impersonates both parents in the storytelling and while she nails her mother (it also helps that she bears a striking resemblance and shares some of her mannerisms) her mimicry of her non-famous father comes across as crude and has nothing of the charm and sophistication she says he possessed.
Once it is established that her parents weren't great at parenting — about five minutes into the show — the questions then turn on her and on how she coped, bounced back and, sadly, how — and why — she kept hoping that her parents would become the parents she always wanted.
Who will like it? Celebrity voyeurs. Christina Crawford. Klingons.
Who won't?: Shirley.
For the kids?: Who's Shirley MacLaine, mom?
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: For some, "Poor kid, but what incredible stories." For others, the last line of "The Apartment" might come to mind: "Shut up and deal."
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot?: The lives of children of famous people — movie stars, presidents, geniuses, despots — are as valid as anyone's story. But at the end of the day there has to be something more in the telling.
The basics: The show runs through June 9 at the Off Broadway Theatre, 41 Broadway (entrance behind Toad's Place on York Street). Running time is 100 minutes without intermission. Performances are Wednesday, June 5 through Saturday, June 8 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, June 9, at 3 p.m. Tickets $30. Information at 203-305-7762.