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High-spirited 'Whosis' needs more clarity and definition


'Whosis' When: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Dec. Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston Street

Tickets: $10-$16.

Call 752-8558.

** "Whosis" refers to a drunken ditty -- "Oh! What a pal was Whosis/Let's drink a toast to I-forget-his-name" -- which Carol Llewellyn used to hear at home as a child.

It's also the title of the show she has co-written for Figures of Speech Theatre, of Freeport, Maine, currently at the Theatre Project.

Performed partly by puppets and partly by live actors, "Whosis" relates the experiences of a young girl growing up with an alcoholic father in a seacoast town.

The three-person show includes an entertainingly eclectic mix of styles ranging from music hall numbers with accordion accompaniment, to direct audience address, to a wide range of puppets, including hand puppets, rod puppets and the type of doll-like figures Theatre Project audiences will remember from Figures of Speech's previous appearance here two years ago. At one point there's even a sing-along in which the cast teaches the audience the title song.

But despite such high-spirited diversion, "Whosis" is repetitive and doesn't seem to go anywhere. Part of the problem is that the central character of the daughter is portrayed at various times by two different actresses -- as a child by Karen E. Nelson and as an adult by Ms. Llewellyn -- as well as by several puppets.

Because Ms. Llewellyn also plays the girl's mother and doesn't change her costume when she plays the grown daughter, it's virtually impossible to tell when she's enacting which part. Regrettably, this confusion deflates the ending when the daughter presumably accepts her father for who he is and is able to get on with her life.

Beside Ms. Llewellyn and Ms. Nelson, the cast includes John Farrell, who co-wrote the script and portrays two versions of the father as he appears in his daughter's memory -- as a monster and a sailor.

The structure of the piece intersperses the daughter's grim recollections with the jovial music hall songs. It sets up an ironic counterpoint, but irony isn't enough. To be truly effective, "Whosis" needs clarity and definition.

While the troupe is in town, Figures of Speech also will be performing a children's show, "Cupid and Psyche," Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. The company's technique is impressive, and its material for children will undoubtedly be easier to follow.

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