Arts+Movies » Features

Village Rep's gripping and gratifying staged memoir, All About You, closes this weekend

You'll root for Liz Butler Duren


Liz (center) realized something was up when she first saw this family photo at age 10. - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • Liz (center) realized something was up when she first saw this family photo at age 10.
The first thing I noticed about Liz Butler Duren when she took the stage at Woolfe Street Playhouse was her dancing blue eyes. They are extraordinary, not only in color and clarity, but also in luminescence and life force. And, since Duren trains most of her tale directly at the audience during her one-woman show, they also proved quite effective at holding my attention.

All About You: An Adopted Child’s True Story, which is based on Duren’s memoir of the same name, is having its world premiere as part of the Village Rep’s current season. Directed by Keely Enright and staged in the Woolfe Street’s smaller studio space, the intermission-free hour-and-change work breezes affably along, pausing now and again to gently tug a heartstring while never dragging it too roughly over its ragged subject matter. After all, Duren, by her own characterization, is a Southerner, and wouldn’t go and do something as unseemly as picking at a scab. Those eyes also hold a crucial key to the South Carolinian's intimate, humor-laced story of her own adoption, from her initial discovery as a child in Mt. Pleasant to the protracted, painstaking search for her birth mother upstate. At the age of 10, when looking at a family portrait gathering her parents, her brother, and herself, it struck her that those baby blues and that tan-free skin were both striking departures from the features of the rest of her tribe.

We glean the details of this realization, as well as those of her search as an adult, as Duren jovially ambles about a kitchen, clad in bougie blue velour sweatpants while folding laundry, checking Facebook, and stealing spoonfuls from an ice cream carton. She chats out her life story as if we were her besties plunked down at the kitchen table by her side, mixing mirth and yearning in a fizzy narrative cocktail with just the right dash of bitters. Polished and magnetic, Duren is a true blue show woman, with sparkle and wit aplenty to keep the audience in the palms of her diamond-dazzled hands.

A child of the 1970s, her memories are inflected with references to Happy Days and Little House on the Prairie, as well as photos of static family portraits and regrettable hairstyles. And about that hair: Through the battlefield of her untamable mane, she skillfully metes out the low notes of mother-daughter dynamics, recalling how visions of Breck girl stardom were regularly done in by her mom’s severe barbershop mandates.

Stoic and Southern, frequently fixed on Days of Our Lives and Harlequin romances, her mother does bear the brunt of Duren’s grief, controlling the home as she does with the soft-toned authority of an Old Village steel magnolia. At the same, time, Duren’s sweet, though less-than-effusive father, gets off comparatively easy.

All in all, Duren likens her familial circumstances to a Civil War cannonball her parents and brother gingerly stepped around. At the same time, she sidesteps a few of her own, like the disappointments of collapsed marriages and any challenges she herself may have experienced as the mother of four children.

There is a harrowing moment surrounding a note that her adoptive mother had tucked away. To me, its very survival through the years holds in it a key to her mother’s unspoken heart. The soul-searching that it could unlock might also round out the last part of the work, which perhaps wraps up a bit too economically the heartache of family schisms, longing children, and, oh, those tortured mothers.

To say I wanted more is in and of itself an endorsement of this affecting, appealing account. It is also deeply gratifying to see such a stirring work spun wholly from the stuff of the Lowcountry — from its lush summer gardens to its cryptic adoption paper trails, from its prim social mores to its women with wine. With Duren, craft and charisma align in a woman’s transfixing search of that intangible something that makes a person feel mothered, and I rooted all the way that she may find it.

Add a comment