Review: Emily Stout Shines at Any Age in Solo Show "Grownup"

Grownup

Written and performed by Emily Stout

Directed by Mary Rose Branick

Presented by The Associates Theater Ensemble at MITU580

580 Sackett St., Unit A – Ground Fl, Brooklyn, NYC

April 21-30, 2023

Emily Stout. Photo by Eileen Meny.
If someone asked you to identify the moment when you became a grownup, what would your answer be? That imagined boundary–and its crossing–is one of the concerns of Grownup, a superb new solo show from Emily Stout, one of the founding members of The Associates Theater Ensemble. Stout reveals early on that even though she currently may not be good at many areas of being an adult (a lack of mastery to which, no doubt, many of us can relate), she dreamed of being grown up, which she associated with hardship, since she was a young child. While she fantasizes some such hardships as a child, some are also very real, such as a persistent insomnia that takes hold in elementary school (but also, in a nuance characteristic of the show, later, if somewhat inadvertently, contributes to bonding time with her father). She also recounts how this view of being a grownup intersected with an early–as in middle school–stage role, and her pursuit of acting becomes another thread which the show follows, including two significant moments attending other performers' solo shows (moments which reinforce that a lot of grownup life is driven by happenstance, however much we like to think that adulthood means being in control).
Emily Stout. Photo by Eileen Meny.
Stout interweaves the story of her own process of growing up with recreations of short interviews with children whom she babysat. At these times, "Emily" becomes a recorded voice offstage, and the onstage Emily becomes one of the children, girls who range in age from eight to 11½. Stout employs a minimum of costuming and props (such as a tv remote wand for Cate, who loves magic and Harry Potter) as she disappears into these characters, capturing their individual movements, mannerisms, and cadences in a way that is funny yet also authentic. The girls' answers to her questions demonstrate in some aspects a point of view unique to childhood, but in other aspects they emphasize how children are already dealing with grownup experiences and have thoughts on existential questions (it is interesting to think about these qualities of their responses in terms of academic arguments that "childhood" is a relatively recent social construction).  
Emily Stout. Photo by Eileen Meny
Whether as a child or a grownup, Stout's performance is effortlessly absorbing and often hilarious. This terrific performance is complemented by excellent lighting and sound design from Bryan Ealey and Andrew Lynch, respectively. The set, evoking a comfy, wood-paneled den with a shag rug, toy chest, and small audience of plush animals, undergoes some changes as the show moves into more exclusively grownup, and more grave, territory. What does it mean to grow up? One suggestion that the show ultimately makes seems to be that change and continuity in growing up are hopelessly inseparable; and the production's climax brings together childhood and aging in a sort of palimpsest that is simultaneously funny, warm, and heartbreaking, with a final moment that packs both an aesthetic and emotional punch. While you may not need babysitting, Grownup is a great reason to put yourself in Emily Stout's hands for an hour or so.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards  

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