By Peter Foy
Although the trek to find that special someone can be long, arduous and heartbreaking, this period of yearning offers plenty of great personal experiences. One rewarding aspect of playing the singles shuffle is the opportunity for introspection, and finding out more about your own self as a person. That is the subject of Julie Gieseke’s one‑woman show, “Borderline A**hole,” a piece that examines both a problematic relationship and a psychological disorder. It’s certainly timeless material, and while it doesn’t always hit its mark, when it does, it’s radiant.
This autobiographical play recounts Ms. Gieseke’s relationship with a woman named Monica. For Ms. Gieseke, world‑weary after years of dating disappointments, Monica appears to be a miraculous gift. She is attractive, funny and artistically inclined (she encourages Ms. Gieseke to paint, instead of just watching “The Crown” on Netflix). Ms. Gieseke begins to feel like she’s truly found her perfect match. But their relationship takes a rough turn when Monica suggests that Ms. Gieseke might have Borderline Personality Disorder. This causes Ms. Gieseke to pose a very serious question: who is the asshole?
Ms. Gieseke is prosaic in her delivery, and her monologue often feels like it’s being read aloud from a book. That’s not a criticism, especially as she frequently uses detailed description, but the play works best when she shows rather than tells. Minimalist in terms of set, with Ms. Gieseke accompanied only by two stools, “Borderline A**hole” makes the most of what it has. Ms. Gieseke uses the two stools to mime actions (i.e. driving a car, checking a laptop), which never distances us from her centrifugal words. She often switches from narration to dialogue between characters, which at times can be a bit haphazard in transition, but fortunately she’s aided by well‑placed lighting that indicates changes of scene and time.
The writing is quite strong, too. Some of the smartest humor comes from Ms. Gieseke’s interactions with Monica (“What’s your sexual orientation?” “I’m an artist”), and “Borderline A**hole” feels most revelatory when Ms. Gieseke tries to figure out what is truly ailing her. Aside from the suggestion of Borderline Personality Disorder from Monica, we discover that Ms. Gieseke is struggling to take care of her dying mother, suggesting that her behavior might be hereditary, or arise from grief. Still, she cannot deny that she has more than a few of the traits of BPD, as shown in a poignant scene in which she looks it up online. Ms. Gieseke offers no clear‑cut resolution as to the primary cause of her condition, which allows the piece to be more provocative.
“Borderline A**hole” is entertaining and moving, if a bit anticlimactic ‑ there is no dramatic scene of an abrasive breakdown leading up to its serene conclusion. The show premiered and had a very well‑received run in San Francisco, but there is a nagging sense that it doesn’t go quite deep enough. Nonetheless, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable work that is impressively both personal and universal. It’s hard to believe that Ms. Gieseke has only been a playwright and stage performer for eight years, as there is a confidence to this piece that seems to come from decades of experience. Perhaps Ms. Gieseke will put more vigor into her next work, because while “Borderline A**hole” features a plethora of ideas, it could use a burst of energy.
“Borderline A**hole ”
Written and Performed Julie Gieseke
Directed and Co-Written by Nina Wise
October 3rd at 7:30 PM
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Production
2019 United Solo Theater Festival
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
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PETER FOY is a writer, journalist, and avid culture-vulture currently residing in Queens, New York. He likes to find the right amount of joy and darkness in his everyday life, not unlike his stories, and putting his observational and encyclopedic qualities to good use for the chaotic age we’re in.