Fringe Festival shows come from all over. The List, a one-woman play starring the bilingual Sofi Lambert, has blazed down to New York from Montreal in a flowing translation from the French by Shelley Tepperman, and while Ms. Lambert’s accent grows a bit thicker at the more emotional moments, her performance is likely to prove one of the acting highlights of this year’s 187-show NYC Fringe.
Lambert plays a young woman who has moved with her husband and three small children to a village some distance from the city and has trouble finding friends and fitting in until she meets the family-focused Caroline, who has a large and growing brood and wants more because “with children, love is so easy.” Our heroine tries and fails to parse that statement, scrawling it on her white floor where it takes its place among a cacophony of lists (hence the title). Feeling detached and out of control, she’s become obsessive about making task lists, even of those things (like laundry) that don’t need to be listed, that just obviously have to be done. Finding her life “an upward climb that never ends,” she bewails her status: “I’ll always be a bitter fruit, in the city or surrounded by fields.”
The script is decorated lightly with such poetic flourishes. The backdrop hosts projections of charcoal-like drawings indicating settings but also states of mind. Amid these childlike flavors, the utterly charming Ms. Lambert, gracefully directed by Katie McHugh, whirls us through the not-so-innocent drama of her character’s aimless life and growing friendship with Caroline, the disaster that befalls that friend, and the blame (list-related, of course) she casts on herself. In the process The List checks off all the boxes of a satisfying and affecting play, a difficult feat for a solo piece.
It works partly because Ms. Lambert evokes the atmosphere and portrays the other characters in a variety of domestic scenes – neighborly visits, children’s birthday parties, a village picnic. All the while she reveals bit by bit the frayed psyche of a woman stuck in a modern-day version of the world of the dissatisfied 1950s housewife. But instead of turning to drugs, this woman turns to lists, scribbling them all over the floor and furniture until the sad denouement – which is a bit of a letdown, as we’ve known all along (in general terms) the climactic event. The specifics turn out to be gruelingly painful, but the sweetly emotional aftermath lacks the constant pinpricks of psychic surprise that make the play as a whole so involving.
This intense, funny, and thoroughly engaging American premiere is well worth your Fringe dollars. Courtesy of Les Exportables, whose mission is “to produce and translate Quebecois plays for a New York City audience,” it has one more Fringe NYC performance (tomorrow).