More Than Just a “Figurehead”

Lead Article, Reviews

By Alex Miller
 
A figurehead, the literal object, is a wooden decoration at the bow of a ship, often depicted in films and other media as a bare‑chested woman. Our protagonist, trapped in a basement, imagines herself as a human figurehead‑plastered to the front of a bus, her suicide a grandiose display of freedom from imprisonment (both figurative and literal). This is where we find ourselves at the beginning of a psychological drama with speckles of dark humor. Not a bad place to start. A terrible place to start. But beautifully macabre. Halloween came early.
 
Imagine a tall, ginger‑haired 20‑something with features of Maisie Williams and Scarlett Johansson. Lindsey Normington plays Pam Maxim, a middle‑class college freshman whose life is unimpressive…at least in the beginning. She has wanted to be an actress since high school. Her true motivation for choosing this occupation was wanting to either be seen or ignored. Possibly both.
 
She parties with friends, many of whom aren’t very memorable. Her therapist is an obnoxious New York psychiatrist mostly concerned with his fee and keeping his eye on the clock. Pam’s anxiety and millennial existential crises are regular topics of conversation.
 
But the real nightmare comes during what would otherwise have been an average night out. A guy she knows from high school pressures her to have sex, but she refuses. And then there’s the oddball named Robert, who refers to himself as Phoenix. She remarks that when she was a freshman, he was that weird senior who had strong Wes Bentley from “American Beauty” vibes.
 
Fed up with the party, Pam ventures out alone into the cold night, soaked with alcohol that had been spilled on her.
 
Robert, or Phoenix, drives up to her in his green hatchback. She gets in. He gives her a drugged drink. He will later inform her of the reason he kidnapped her: she trusts too much.
 
She wakes up with matted hair, dirty clothes, and a manacled right leg. Crates, a bucket, and a mattress complete the desperate scene. This is the true essence of helplessness. She has counted 232 days since her capture.
 
If she could go back, she’d “do less shitty jobs, eat less shitty food,” and be more cautious in life. She is someone we can and cannot relate to. Horror of the unknown is universal. Not so universal is being kidnapped and locked in a basement for nearly a year.
 
More than just a cautionary tale, “Figurehead” is a great study of the mind of a young woman exposed to a world full of cautionary tales about what not to do. She wonders whether it would be better to die or to be found and victim‑shamed for not having “known better.” And that’s where this play really shines‑when it faces visceral truths of the human psyche, in a place as hopeless as a prison.
 
Self‑awareness is a good thing, but a play can suffer from being too meta. That is what happens when certain themes, such as Pam’s heavy‑handed, relentless harping on being an actress, get in the way of the much more pressing issues of the bondage, the torturer, and never‑ending fear.
 
That said, Ms. Normington displays an incredible range of emotions and physicality, and it is this reviewer’s opinion that she will be someone to look out for in the next couple of years. She is a talented artist, and it would be wise to keep your eyes and ears peeled for what she’s up to next.

 
Figurehead
Written and Performed by Lindsey Normington
October 23 at 9PM
Photo: courtesy of the production
2019 United Solo Theatre Festival
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
 
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ALEX MILLER, has been a professional writer and editor for 6 years. He joined the Navy in 2004, and served for four years in Haiti, Iraq, and Somalia. He has a degree in Public Engagement from The New School, and has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New York Daily News, Forbes, QZ, and The Guardian, and has been featured in the anthologies “The Byline Bible” and “The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook.
 

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