In “What Kind of Woman” by Abbe Tannenbaum, an unexpected phone call from her estranged son, sends Nora (Virgina Ginny Wall Gruenert) into a state of panic. In the final moments of their first conversation in years, Nora invites her adult son and his wife to come to her very cluttered apartment in Chelsea.
During a DIY scroll through YouTube, Nora finds Anne (Abbe Tannenbaum), an actor and personal organizer, and Nora realizes it’s time for a deep clean. Anne undertakes an archeological excavation through Nora’s life, and, suddenly, every item in her life is divided into the keep or pitch piles. Nora is forced to give the keepers a definitive “Hell, yes,” or Anne sticks it in the donation bin.
The tiny apartment is crammed with junk, a trumpet, a feather boa, books, a one-eyed teddy bear named Walter and, most importantly, a bundle of hand-written letters. The letters are a treasure trove, Anne and Nora uncover twenty letters from the 1970s, when Nora worked at the Women’s Health and Abortion Project in Chelsea in the days when the medical procedure was illegal.
While working in New York City as an actual personal organizer, Tannenbaum, the playwright, found the letters in a client’s apartment. The story is a fictionalized account of that true-to-life experience.
There are a myriad of twists and turns in “What Kind of Woman,” and they’re not all pleasant, but the story borders on brilliant. It is a play about women’s reproductive rights. While the play was written several years ago, it seems prescient, but it is not a heavy-handed melodrama about a woman’s right to choose. Every time the play leads down a preachy, “On a very special episode of ‘Designing Women’” corridor, it veers off into new territory. As a playwright, Tannenbaum swerves deftly without judging her characters or their choices.
Gruenert brings an emotional gravitas to the production. She breathes Nora’s character into life. It is a powerful performance with a full range of emotions on display.
Tannenbaum’s Anne is joyful, wacky and a more sympathetic character. She does get to explore some darker moments, but she brings it back to comedy every time. One of laugh out loud moments in the play (and despite the subject matter there are quite a few) is watching Tannenbaum’s Anne attempting to escape a big, dark green garbage bag, hulking out of it in a fit of rage.
Tucker Topel’s set looks like it was transplanted to Carnegie from an episode of A & E “Hoarders.” The stage is stuffed with knick-knacks, tchotchkes, gewgaws, trinkets and trifles.
Stagehands swiftly removing items between scenes. Said scene changes are filled with interstitial video material from the alleged YouTubeification of Nora’s decluttering.
Director Kira Simring keeps the pace fast and increasingly fastidious. The show is guaranteed to spark more joy than a Marie Kondo special.
“What Kind of Woman” runs from September 23 to October 1 at the Carnegie Stage before moving off to the cell theatre in NYC from October 19 to November 19. Catch it here so you don’t have to go there. Off The Wall Productions at the Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main, Carnegie, PA 15106. For more information and tickets, go to www.insideoffthewall.com