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Stage Review: Searching for meaning in the Barbie universe

Friday, February 21, 2003

By Anna Rosenstein

Played with any anatomically unrealistic dolls lately? Alison K. Babusci wants to know. And she wants you to know, if you're feeling a little guilty, you're not alone.

At least, not if you've been playing with the ubiquitous Barbie. The doll's a (not terribly) secret vice for Babusci, too, who brings her one-woman "Deconstructing Barbie" back home to Attack

'Deconstructing Barbie'

WHERE: 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown.

WHEN: 8 tonight and 10 p.m. Saturday.

TICKETS: $5 suggested; 412-325-0654.


Theatre's Liberty Avenue studio.

First premiered at the 1999 Three Rivers Arts Festival, "Deconstructing Barbie" is a casual, friendly, 45-minute stroll through the landscape of Babusci's memories of growing up smart and female in a liberal, politically aware family in which playing with Barbie dolls was as unthinkable as playing with guns.

Babusci doesn't embark on a feminist rant. Instead, as she sits comfortably in jeans and a pretty pink sweater surrounded by Barbie accessories and a clothesline hung with cute little Barbie outfits, her observations are more wry than bitter. One of her brightest gifts is that so many of her remarks sparkle with familiarity, though I found it a little disarming to discover that my childhood lacked the originality I'd always assumed.

An expert storyteller, Babusci draws her audience in. Her range is far-reaching and intimate. One moment you're watching a breathless child play dress-up in a beloved grandmother's attic; the next it seems you're chatting with an old friend over coffee.

"Deconstructing Barbie" is funny, charming and poignant, but its interest lies beyond its reminiscences of first kisses and odious stepmothers in the dilemma Babusci lays bare. Forget that tired argument of career vs. motherhood. We want to know if a feminist can be girly. Are there stilettos hidden behind those no-nonsense flats in the closets of smart, practical women everywhere?

Babusci, wearing makeup and painted toenails and sporting an obvious affection for the buxom Barbie, seems to have arrived at a tenuous compromise. But at what cost? There are no easy answers as she tries to find a way to embrace femininity on her own terms, picking and choosing from the definitions offered by her family, society -- and, of course, her pal Barbie.

Tonight's performance is followed by a Barbie Salon: Bring your Barbie story.

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