By Sam Affoumado
Renegade Princess, originally directed by Tanya Taylor Rubinstein, is a solo theater piece written and performed by Ann Marie Houghtailing. The one-woman show makes its way to New York via the Tenth Avenue Theatre in San Diego and the Santa Fe Solo Performance Festival. Renegade Princess chronicles Ms. Houghtailing’s life experiences, from the early days of her marriage through her amicable divorce and subsequent struggles as a single mom raising her two sons.
Some of Ms. Houghtailing’s anecdotes are amusing, especially when she
fully inhabits the characters she presents. The two standouts are the feminist
“Peppermint Princess,” a Disney-like character she plays for a gig with a
corporate entertainment company and the amusing “French Sex Therapist”
that she embodies for a job at a bachelorette party. In this role, Ms.
Houghtailing dutifully improvises while teaching the women how to orally
pleasure their men. There were some serious moments too, which added a
nice balance to the evening of storytelling.
Writing and performing one’s own work is a challenge not many artists are
willing or able to attempt. Exposing one’s own life experiences to a theater-
going public must be extremely demanding not to mention nerve-wracking.
Ms. Houghtailing should be applauded for her courage. As a performer, she
is at her best when she thoroughly develops her characters. She appears most
authentic and compelling when she talks about her children, Jackson and
Austin. In one memorable vignette, she tells her son’s teacher that she is not
really the great parent she appears to be. Her son overhears the conversation
and confronts her. He explains how upset he feels whenever she (his
wonderful mother) belittles herself to others. He tells her that he thinks she
is a great mom. Ms. Houghtailing lets us know how guilty she feels about
not always being there for her sons. She admits that she is not your typical
“9 to 5” mom.
Overall, the evening was mildly entertaining and sometimes compelling. But
it lacked theatricality. The staging was simple and visually vacuous. The
theatre (Stage Left Studio) is an intimate Black Box Theatre with a small
stage area that was bare except for a chair or two. The transitions made from
one story to the next and from one character to another were defined only by
some subtle lighting. There were no props or costume changes and the characters were often defined by their accents alone. French and Japanese
seemed to be the favored accents du jour.
Ms. Houghtailing’s life journey, thus far, has been interesting and certainly
has had its ups and downs. Unfortunately, the stories, as told, were for the
most part, unremarkable. In this economy, absentee parenting is a dilemma
many of us must confront each and every day. We have all heard stories
about single moms trying to eke out a living to raise their children. Some of
Ms. Houghtailing’s jobs were, indeed, whacky and different and, obviously,
her life experiences are uniquely hers but it takes more than whimsical
stories to make an evening a solid theatrical experience.
Stage Left Studio
214 West 30th Street, NYC
through March 10, 2012
Remaining performances are March 9th and 10th
at 7:30pm. Tickets online at www.stageleftstudio.net