Endings and Beginnings in “Has Anybody Seen Debbie?”

Lead Article, Reviews

By Allyce Morrissey
 
She calls her 90‑minute one‑woman show a “traum‑edy.” And she knows, before you remind her, that “people hate one‑woman shows.”
 
“Has Anybody Seen Debbie” is the story of Ms. Kasper’s life, and how she grew up believing she was supposed to be somebody ‑ “I’m a narcissist with low self‑esteem,” she says. It is about her tumultuous relationship with her parents ‑ and the peace and love she eventually found. It is about alcoholism ‑ her own battle and her family’s history. It is about “failure” and “success” ‑ whatever those may mean. But ultimately, it is about how, at age “sixty‑fuuuuuuu…” she recognized that her dreams didn’t turn out the way she’d planned and tried to find something better.
 
When she’s not addressing her audience directly, Ms. Kasper performs many younger versions of herself. She plays with her pigtails as a child in the backseat of her parents’ car. She teases her hair into a twenty‑something’s 1980s do. She dances dressed like a reindeer on the Rosie O’Donnell show in the 1990s. She also embodies her mother, father, agent, and the love of her life with humor and tenderness ‑ and some exceptional voice work.
 
Ms. Kasper’s humor is often overly self‑deprecating, but always honest. She laments the fact that she was “supposed to be someone” ‑ even though, by many estimations, she was and is. She reflects on the pressure she feels to live up to others’ expectations of her. She offers a theory that women carry around all the unrealized dreams of their female ancestors.
 
To her surprise, and after a series of often‑abusive relationships, Ms. Kasper found the love of her life at age 43 ‑ and then nursed him through illness over the final ten years of their twenty‑year relationship. Despite her tragic loss, it seems, she has found that love can fill up a lot of the longing caused by unfulfilled dreams, and opens a person up to new ones.
 
Ms. Kasper’s set consists of two black chairs of different heights and a black table with a pot of yellow mums. She has no props, unless you count the few times she uses her hand as a phone. Her piece includes a detailed soundscape of effects and musical underscoring from songs like “Walk on the Wild Side” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” as well as a rather elaborate sequence of lighting cues. The tech occasionally seems to overcomplicate what is otherwise a fully stripped‑down performance. Similarly, the broad and non‑linear timespan of Ms. Kasper’s story at times makes it difficult to hold onto the piece’s larger meaning over its ninety minutes. But more important than design or chronology, Ms. Kasper’s honest and vulnerable performance is truly captivating.
 
The new version of Ms. Kasper’s dreams of stardom is simpler, and one she gets to realize through the performance itself ‑ sharing moments of laughter and tears with an audience. Seeking connection, rather than fame, is its own form of success.
 
Ms. Kasper hates endings. She prefers to think of them as new beginnings.

 
Has Anybody Seen Debbie?
Written and Performed by Debbie Kasper
Directed by Kate Bridges
Co-Produced by Lindsay Jones
October 19 and 20 at 4 PM
Photo by Brad Bucklin
2019 United Solo Theater Festival
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
 
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ALLYCE MORRISSEY is a dramaturg based in New York City. She holds an MA in Dramaturgy and Writing for Performance from Goldsmiths, University of London, and a BA in English from Villanova University. She also works in entertainment advertising.
 

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