Megan O'Leary's one-act play "Charlotte the Destroyer" chronicles the downward spiral of a once-successful children's book author, whose vain efforts to transition to adult novels lead to depression and alcoholism. Charlotte, the heroine of her popular kid's books, just won't make the seamless passage into adulthood her author seeks to narrate. As the author's mental health deteriorates, Charlotte's agency strengthens. The play alternates between scenes from the writer's life and scenes from her book, Charlotte's reality.
The woman (portrayed by O'Leary) lives in a squalid apartment with her witless "lover," played by Joseph Rodriguez. It is the scene of their fights, their eventual breakup, and her relentless boozing. It is also the bedroom of Charlotte, who remains onstage throughout the play as a specter whose presence enables her author's addiction. Likewise, the author is seated at her typewriter -- I guess it's a period piece! -- during scenes depicting her character's dysfunctional family life. As Charlotte lives through her mother's abandonment, two instances of molestation, one attempted murder and two successful ones -- all committed by Charlotte herself -- the woman becomes more and more unwound. It's clear that the happy childhood constructed for Charlotte in her previous novels can no longer subdue the author's painful memories of her own youth.
Although the play's themes are highly personal, the story feels more narrative and less introspective. It's as if we view the characters from a distance. Their dialogue seems like crude parody; an approximate interpretation of distress. This is likely owed to the play's comic element. It is, after all, a dark comedy. But the attempted levity feels ill-fitting until the end, when the woman tries desperately to reunite Charlotte's family for one last picture-perfect meal. Sarcastic banter between parents and child reveals O'Leary's comic skill. It also gives the actors a moment to shine -- specifically Emily Dahlke, who play's Charlotte's self-involved mother.
The final scene, a showdown between character and author, is the most intimate moment of the play. In Charlotte's poetic final monologue she adopts a lucid new voice with which she gracefully narrates the demise of her author -- and, perhaps, of herself. It's out of place, but charmingly so.
"Charlotte the Destroyer" will run through March 8th as a part of FRIGID New York.
Through Mar. 8 at the Kraine Theater