Review: ‘Cheeks’ at Plays and Players Theatre

First things first: Lee Minora’s solo show Cheeks is a laugh riot. Do not miss an opportunity to see this show. It is both whip smart and hysterical (both in the colloquial meaning and a feminist punning take on the word’s original meaning).

Lee Minora. Photo by Kate Raines|Plate 3 Photography.

Lee Minora. Photo by Kate Raines|Plate 3 Photography.

In Cheeks, Minora plays a struggling actor, “Lee Minora,” who has delightedly created a one person show about the reclusive late nineteenth century poetess and recluse Lady Elizabeth Edwards as a way to escape eternal typecasting as “Sexy Baby” (think Betty Boop). You don’t know Lady Elizabeth Edwards? Authoress of such works as “Cat’s Milk in Fine China”? You will when Minora gets through with you.

Cheeks began as half of a Berserker Residents production at the 2016 Fringe Festival. Its style is heavily influenced by bouffon, a clowning style formularized by famed teacher Jacques Lecoq. For Lecoq, buffoons are people “who believe in nothing and make fun of everything.” It is usually a group style, but a solo version is emerging with artists such as Red Bastard, who is a strong influence on Minora’s work. In Cheeks, Minora eschews the usual exaggerated grotesqueness of bouffon for a more everyday grotesqueness (deliciously realized in Emilie Krause’s costume design) that makes the performance simultaneously more “audience-friendly” and more subversive.

The meat of the performance begins after “Lee Minora” is possessed by the spirit of Lady Elizabeth, who believes we are the first people she’s seen since hiding herself away in a single room for ten years – yes, ten years in which she hasn’t left a late nineteenth century room for any reason. In between her “fits,” she speaks of her work, questions the audience, draws them into helping her create impromptu “pyomes.” Cheeks is a clowning master class on working a room while staying within a character, and more impressive because Lady Elizabeth’s bouffon nihilism and Minora’s generosity of spirit co-exist throughout the performance (some credit for this has to go to Director Scott Sheppard for a fine outside eye).

In Lady Elizabeth, Lee Minora has a character she could build upon for years. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes with no intermission.

Cheeks played for one night, September 13, 2017, in the Skinner Studio at Plays and Players Theatre – 1714 Delancey Place in Philadelphia, PA. For more information on the play and future performances, visit the show’s website.

 

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