Ad Astra’s ‘Self Love’ fails at storytelling

Andrew Shermoen

The Ad Astra Theatre Company’s “Homegrown Playwright Project,” is a fantastic concept that is sure to highlight some of the greatest hidden talent in Northeastern Kansas. Without small town theatres taking chances on budding writers, we would never have the transformative musical “Hamilton,” from Lin-Manuel Miranda. Ad Astra taking a chance on smaller playwrights is sure to result in some amazing pieces of work, and its newest project “Self Love,” from Lisa Greenwood, seems like the beginning of a fantastic venture.

The actors are fantastic, the set is stylish and there are truly funny moments. However, the script is incongruent and the general themes of the piece are difficult to discern, which results in a hopeful future, but a weak show overall.

A small cast performed an original story from local playwright Lisa Greenwood entitled “Self Love,” Sept. 22 to 25 at Governor’s Row House.

Faye (Heather J. Ives) is a neurotic and timid woman who works for a novelty adult toy company. Her employer, Evelyn (Penni Hansen), is ready to fire Faye due to her inability to sell products. When a box falls on her and she has a concussion, she realizes her life is beginning to improve dramatically. She begins to deduce that a mysterious new figure, Faye II (Ashley Nelson), is the center of this improvement, and the new girl seems so familiar.

The acting in “Self Love,” is great all around. Ives perfectly captures the essence of Faye. She’s stressed, constantly confused and out of her league. Her transition of confidence is all the more understandable due to Ives’ capable hands. Penni Hansen’s portrayal of Evelyn is hilarious and intimidating; she’s a treasure to watch. Nelson’s Faye II is quirky, bright and filled with energy, which makes her one of the most commanding presences on the stage.

While “Self Love” is certainly filled with captivating female performances, it certainly isn’t free of faults. Its dialogue is often very weak and plot points are over explained while they are happening. Scenes last too long and often return to conflicts that have already been resolved in that scene. The themes of ideal selves and social media takeover are handled with nuance and give the show a pop from a tonal standpoint, but these themes are entered into the narrative with little devotion to the plot and rules of its universe.

Faye II is clearly meant to represent Faye’s ideal version of herself, and yet she interacts with many characters other than Faye. Despite being a complete construct of Faye’s psyche, Faye II (and another imagined character, Tobias) consistently break the boundaries of their existence and talk to other characters in the narrative. Whether or not this was an intention, the explanation of why this is possible is nowhere to be found in the show.

Greenwood’s abilities as a playwright are rough, but it is certainly clear that the talent is there. With more practice and more assistance from Ad Astra to continue producing her shows, it is likely that soon enough we might have a hit.

For now, “Self Love,” was well acted and wonderfully detailed from a visual perspective, but its main component, the story, is not as gripping as one would wish.

Rating 2.5/5