Watching a one-person show like the solid but not spectacular the scandal! at New City Theater provides an opportunity similar to watching singer-songwriters perform their own songs in acoustic shows. It not only allows for a close examination of the material being performed, but its fundamental nature forces a reconsideration of the form. The best theater embraces the nature of its schizophrenic authorial voice. A playwright gives the play its voice and story; the director makes the final decision as to how the bodies move across the stage. Bad theater undervalues one of those two factors, or assumes for one of theater's interpretive elements--such as acting--an authorial voice of its own.

A play with a single primary writer/ performer/director like the scandal! preserves the fundamental tension between parts, despite reducing the chances of creative derailment caused by personality conflicts or differences in approach. Better yet, Kristen Kosmas is a remarkably restrained performer. Anyone for whom the phrase "one-person show" brings to mind the intimidating guitar-solo heroics of Anna Deavere Smith and Eric Bogosian can rest easy knowing Kosmas the actress never overwhelms the director or writer. If her voice wasn't so clear and listenable, one could almost accuse her of muttering portions of the show, confident an audience will keep up or at least fill in the blanks in reverse. Of particular help in bringing one's expectations about theater to the table is that the subject of the scandal! is personal relationships as defined through words and physical proximity. The narrator of the piece is Pink, a young woman in a small, warm-weather country town who struggles with issues of inner and outward identity.

Pink's inner self is defined by a planned suicide at age 33 by drowning. That narrative is well chosen to reflect certain undeniable story elements: the thematic continuation of her father's suicide, the irony of putting on puppet shows about water as a small child, and the inevitability of her inability to swim and her own basic outcast nature. The audience learns more about Pink from her relationships to other people. She fails to connect with an accusatory mother who has filled their home with furniture following the long-ago death of her husband. Relationships with two friends are strained when they make lifestyle choices regarding marriage and childbirth that Pink can barely comprehend.

Into Pink's life falls Radio, a stranger from out of town with whom she resists having a relationship, and whose presence eventually causes a crisis in self-knowledge and self-determination that leads to the scandalous act of the title. The most dramatic element of staging in the scandal! is how Kosmas portrays this physical disruption: by casting Michael Chick, who plays the pianist. Chick's presence and work on the piano changes the show in much the same way that Radio has an impact on Pink: an undeniable intrusion, but one that represents a shift in forms of expression.

The smartest parts of the scandal! reflect this kind of interaction between very basic formal approaches and the emotionally resonant portions of the story. Two things stand out: First is a shift in narrative, when Pink describes incidents involving Radio. At one point she portrays an exchange--their first full conversation--by repeating all of the questions followed by all of the answers. It extends the moment beautifully, and increases the intensity of both the asking and the response. Second is Pink's choice to relate speeches given to her in variations of her own voice, rather than by embodying those characters. This emphasizes how Pink processes what she's been told, making the audience share in the interpretation, and, as a result, remain squarely concerned about how Pink defines those relationships.

Those exquisitely observed moments make the thematic tidiness of the last 15 minutes even more baffling, as events fall into place to fulfill the play's narrative demands. The conclusion lacks the play's convincing formal reinforcement and almost comes across as a conservative gesture, a nod to stories that end. But for the portions that connect art to becoming human, the scandal! is a solid show from a mature, confident performer, and deserves to be seen.

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