Adrien Royce

at Sheffield’s School Street Cafe, through August 28

It seems that during the 70s Adrien Royce was a real 70s kind of gal. She played Abe Vigoda’s daughter on the TV series Fish. She appeared on The Bionic Woman, Quark, and Starsky and Hutch. What else?

During the 80s Royce stopped acting. She wrote movie-of-the-week scripts and projects for such corporate clients as Quaker Oats, McDonald’s, AT&T, and Allstate. She was the quintessential woman of the 80s: a high-powered, dress-for-success baby boomer.

Judging from the stories she tells in Bigfeet, as Royce makes her transition into the 90s the catch phrase will be “messed-up but still hoping.” In this rambling yet somewhat cohesive one-woman show, Royce tells about all the depressing and downright stupid relationships she’s been in lately. Her saga begins with Edmund, a 26-year-old African American comedian with whom she dreamed of “changing the biases of the world through comedy,” and dances through a love affair with Max, an artist who loved women’s clothing, and ends with Ivan, who she meets when she’s hired to direct a documentary about Bigfoot.

Edmund offers Royce a pipe dream about making “little multicolored babies” and rising to the top of the stand-up comedy circuit using his “perfect comic timing,” her “perfect writer writing.” Max brings her into the world of his sexual fantasies: he wears her fantastic size 11 vintage high heels, she wears leather and a fake penis. Ivan leads her along the trail of Bigfoot, sharing his knowledge of an underground route from California to Alaska known only to Ivan, Bigfoot, and the U.S. government.

Cutting back and forth between stories, Royce tells how she wanted to ask Max just once, “Could you be Tarzan tonight and I be Jane?” She shares her discovery that the Ivan she worshiped has the same build and gait as Bigfoot. And she learns that Edmund used her for her money and pulled the same scam on all his girlfriends, leaving babies and bad debts in his wake. As she tells these tales, her disappointment is palpable. Baring her soul onstage, Royce presents a woman who is vulnerable yet still eager for love.

Her soul baring also invites the question, “Whatarya? Stupid?” In many ways, it seems that question is never answered. And without an answer it’s difficult to get a clear grasp of who this character is. Are these stories from the real life of Adrien Royce, former television actress and writer, or are they humorous fabrications? Royce tells the stories in retrospect but without hindsight, and she seems worse for the wear, not wiser, as she amiably rambles on, interrupting herself with comments that come off as pleas for affection. Because she has little distance from or perspective on these events, they seem to have happened not long ago, to be part of an ongoing saga.

The writing indicates that these are humorous exaggerations of incidents in Royce’s recent past, but it’s never clear onstage because Royce-the-actor does such a flimsy job of portraying them. If I were Royce-the-writer I’d be pretty mad at an actor who did so little justice to my script. Blame it on rusty performance skills, a lack of character analysis, or uncontrollable stage jitters, but Royce’s delivery of the funny lines she’s written for herself somehow comes off as sad rather than funny. Though she has an attractive persona and strong stage presence, Royce seems too embroiled in these situations to give her lines the spin they need. She’s written a funny and genuinely engaging script, but as an actress seems unable to do her work justice.