‘Mary-Kate Olsen is in Love’ at The Studio Theatre

Mallery Avidon’s Mary-Kate Olsen is in Love, now playing at Studio’s Milton Theatre, is many things.

It is a poetically funny exposé on 21st century culture.

Sara Dabney Tisdale (Ashley Olsen) and Suzanne Stanley (Mary-Kate Olsen). Photo: C. Stanley Photography.
Sara Dabney Tisdale (Ashley Olsen) and Suzanne Stanley (Mary-Kate Olsen). Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

It is a lyrical landscape on the lonely emptiness undergirding 21st century happiness.

It is an inspired, beautifully chaotic chant on what it means to be a woman in the 21st century.

What Mary-Kate Olsen is in Love is not is in any way prosaic.

Mallery Avidon is a delightfully insightful playwright whose play is guaranteed to leave you pondering the purpose of your existence well into middle age.

And Studio Theatre’s production, as directed by Holly Twyford, is as beautifully chaotic as is her script.

Katie Ryan plays Grace. Grace is 27; she graduated from a great college; she has a good paying tech job; she married her high school sweetheart; they bought a house in somewhere USA.

Poor Grace. Ryan gives her the authenticity of the truly rutted.

She comes home every day from work to find her husband, Tyler, played with utter worthlessness by Daniel Corey, smoking dope and killing foe on his PlayStation’s Call of Duty.

Katie Ryan (Grace) and Daniel Corey (Tyler). Photo: C. Stanley Photography.
Katie Ryan (Grace) and Daniel Corey (Tyler). Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Grace proceeds to watch TV until she falls asleep on the couch.

Enter Mary-Kate and Ashley, played with sizzle and sparks by Suzanne Stanley and Sara Dabney Tisdale. They want to make the transition to adult-oriented celebrities and need an older demographic model to model themselves after. They choose Grace.

Grace wants nothing more than her deeply numbed life.

Enter the Amazing Girl chorus: Erin Craig, Kayla Dixon, Kaycie Goral, Tuyet Gunter, and Mariana Tatiano, five high school upper classwomen on their way to fame and fortune–or not.

When these five young actresses aren’t dazzling us with their team work, they are turning Mary-Kate Olsen is in Love into a docu-drama, as each handles her direct address monologue about the plight of high-achieving female high school seniors with so much sincerity that the play literally stops, and we listen as if for the first time.

Enter Christian R. Gibbs as the Call of Duty soldier becomes manifest in poor Tyler’s room. If Grace makes manifest her archetypical fame and fortune celebrity duo, then Tyler does likewise in the form of virtual hero warrior.

Enter audience, who from then on out must beware of all psychological complexes constructed on the shoulders of 21st century’s icons.

As I said, there is nothing prosaic about Mallery’s culture-busting rift on the meaning of life in the 21st century.

Mallery’s script creates an hypnotic array of zany poetics, personal monologues on the existential nature of planet human, what sound like “real” interviews with aspiring high school seniors, and pithy one-liners.

Holly Twyford has directed this talented ensemble of free wheeling imaginations with a firm grip: she’s even had the Milton Theatre turned inside out, with the audience entering backstage and the action taking place somewhere between the auditorium and the stage.

The glamour of Hollywood and celebrity never looked so gutted, and this on Tony Award night.

And then when Mary-Kate falls in love with Grace (hence the title), even their love becomes a romanticized tropical postcard where two women lounge on a pathetic beach growing forever bored (I couldn’t help but think of Odysseus growing bored on his island paradise with the goddess Calypso, rejecting eternal love for the travails of Ithaca).

Daniel Corey (Tyler) and Christian R. Gibbs (Soldier). Photo: C. Stanley Photography.
Daniel Corey (Tyler) and Christian R. Gibbs (Soldier). Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Paige Hathaway designed the set for Mary-Kate, a disturbingly chaotic trio of three large pen and ink style backdrops depicting Grace and Tyler’s disheveled home. They have seemingly been pinned to pipes and are hanging loosely in front of the Milton’s auditorium seats. Adrian Rooney’s lights keep the action theatrical yet exposed.

Kara Waala’s costumes are a combination authentic and celebrity hyperbole.

Which leads us back to the heart and soul of Mary-Kate Olsen is in Love.

In a country where its art and culture are increasingly at odds with the health and wellbeing of its citizens, both men and women, where can the young turn for guidance?

The famous mythologist Joseph Campbell spoke about the difference between the hero and the celebrity. The hero (or heroine) “is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” She does and accomplishes that bigger “something.” On the other hand, our modern celebrity doesn’t do, but simply is.

Mary-Kate Olsen is in Love yearns for the former while sifting through the latter.

Campbell also wrote: “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

And that holds true, whether that life was planned for us by the cultural narratives around us or by some more esoteric and ancient means.

Mary-Kate Olsen is in Love leaves us hoping all will “follow their bliss” and have such a life.

Running Time: 70 minutes, without an intermission.

1200x280-marykateMary-Kate Olsen is in Love plays through June 21, 2015 at The Studio Theatre – 1501 14th Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 332-3300, or purchase them online.


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Robert Michael Oliver
Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., considers himself a Creativist. He has been involved in education and the performing arts in the Washington area since the 1980s. He, along with his wife, Elizabeth Bruce, and Jill Navarre, co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in 1983. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theater and performance studies from the University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theater over the five years he worked as a reviewer than he saw in the previous 30. He now co-directs the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project. He has his first book of poetry, The Dark Diary: in 27 refracted moments, due for publication by Finishing Line Press later this year.


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