EVER SINCE NEW YORKER DANCE writer Arlene Croce infamously labeled a Bill T. Jones AIDS piece she hadn't seen "victim art," there has been a simmering debate over theater as therapy. It came up again for me as Amy Marschak detailed the effects of the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. An Angel Cried A Tear Last Night, Marschak's unfortunately titled one-woman show, is honest and fervent to a fault (her program notes are basically a badly proofread rant about the evils of Prozac), but not what I would call a play.

When she's not exhorting the joys of treading the boards (there is a telling lack of irony in lines like "Being a third rate actress in L.A. is not very respected"), Ms. Marschak, clad entirely in white, is lost in the memory of a childhood destroyed by incest. Her articulation of the accompanying rage and confusion reveals an astute personal journey, but referring to her pain as a "big, yucky feeling" and prattling to herself in a child's voice ("Amy, please let me be free") place Marschak's production firmly inside the realm of self-help.

Text limitations notwithstanding, a good director could still have forged at least a bit of theater out of Marschak's testimony. Marschak actually has some observant reflections -- she establishes intentional links between the harboring of secret pain and the frantic need to be the center of attention -- but any potentially biting moment is undercut by director Don Tapia's neglect in shaping her performance. Marschak's focus is often in the wings, and her delivery is repetitively either chipper or despondent (a rhythm change signals every shift into the discussion of abuse). Most of the lines are invoked like proclamations, with the actress consistently wedging them between an overzealous pair of quotation marks. Tapia hasn't led Marschak to any discoveries; instead, he simply allows her to explain what she should explore. The play just isn't audience-inclusive; it doesn't so much share as it does divulge or expunge. However truthful the work may be to any survivors in attendance, Angel unfolds like a confession not meant for our ears.

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