One of the best books I've read in the past year or so was Jo Walton's Among Others, a coming-of-age novel that is simultaneously a great fantasy book and a great book about fantasy and science fiction. Camille Cettina's new one-woman show Mr. Darcy Dreamboat made me think of Walton's book, because it too is a piece of art built on the sturdy back of its creator's love of reading. But where Among Others brings together a range of influences to form a new whole that feels entirely original, Cettina never quite makes that creative leap: While engaging and frequently very charming, Dreamboat is ultimately a survey of influences that it never fully synthesizes.
The two focal points of Dreamboat's set are a comfy-looking armchair and a tower made of bookshelves. Cettina treats the bookshelves like a jungle gym, clambering over the top and around the sides as she introduces the audience to the titles that shaped her life. ("The Yellow Wallpaper," The Awakening, The Bell Jar... "That's that section," she dryly notes.) She was, she explains, the "kind of kid who gets grounded from reading," and one of her first, best loves was everybody's favorite girl detective: Nancy Drew. Cettina brightly acts out a Nancy Drew adventure—introducing self-reliant Nancy, boyish George, and 'fraidy-cat Bess—before growing into an awareness of how oversimplified and unrealistic Nancy's black-and-white world is. Then it's on to V.C. Andrews and her attic o' incest, folowed by Austen and the Brontës and the hopeless pangs of a literary crush: Cettina fixates first on Pride and Prejudice's Mr. Darcy (SWOON) and then on Jane Eyre's Mr. Rochester (ehh...). A particular highlight is a hilarious interpretation of what it would be like to go on a date with each of Pride and Prejudice's male leads: Cettina's acting is most impressive when she's not playing herself, and these quick character sketches are clever and surprising.
As deft and insightful as the show's individual components are, though, they're almost entirely in the service of explaining how much books mean to Cettina—which she herself reminds us frequently by way of such earnest exposition as "language. I can taste it." This forced sincerity is far too common to autobiographical solo theater, and it almost willfully misses the point of what really works about this show. What's interesting is not that Cettina has a lot of feelings about books. What's interesting is the way that she, for moments at a time, cracks open those books, bringing them to life and letting the audience access those feelings for themselves. Mr. Darcy Dreamboat's pieces are in place—they just don't quite fit together into a compelling whole. ALISON HALLETT