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Mythical Proportions at Theater Wit: Theater review

At this point in its development, Nora Dunn's solo show is stronger when she's in character than when she's herself.

 (Photograph: Charles Osgood)
1/6
Photograph: Charles Osgood

Nora Dunn in Mythical Proportions

 (Photograph: Charles Osgood)
2/6
Photograph: Charles Osgood

Nora Dunn in Mythical Proportions

 (Photograph: Charles Osgood)
3/6
Photograph: Charles Osgood

Nora Dunn in Mythical Proportions

 (Photograph: Charles Osgood)
4/6
Photograph: Charles Osgood

Nora Dunn in Mythical Proportions

 (Photograph: Charles Osgood)
5/6
Photograph: Charles Osgood

Nora Dunn in Mythical Proportions

 (Photograph: Charles Osgood)
6/6
Photograph: Charles Osgood

Nora Dunn in Mythical Proportions

Early in her new solo show, making its debut at Lakeview's Theater Wit, Chicago native Nora Dunn describes herself as "nostalgic for eras I never experienced." She's had a lifelong love affair, she says, with the stars of the golden age of Hollywood before she was born.

Later, the erstwhile Saturday Night Live cast member describes meeting a woman she determines to be an old and disillusioned actress. "And then I decided to become one," she adds with deadpan timing.

Dunn goes into more specific detail about the scales falling from her showbiz-worshipping eyes in her years on the coasts; Mythical Proportions includes some truly juicy tales from her late-’80s SNL stint and after. (One of the stories she told me in our recent interview is repeated almost verbatim in the show.) She also recounts some evocative memories from her childhood growing up on the West Side.

And yet, at least at Monday's opening night performance, Dunn felt steadier in the four passages in which she plays fictional characters, ranging from an aged Hollywood agent to a mousy English bookkeeper on holiday in the States, than she did when speaking as herself. When Dunn was Dunn, she often seemed to be searching for her place; at one point she name-checked Mike Nichols when she meant Jack Nicholson, though she quickly recovered.

Leaving the psychoanalysis to the professionals, my guess is that the character pieces are more fully scripted, while Dunn wants the personal passages to feel off-the-cuff. (One of the character scenes, in which Dunn pretty effectively imagines an African-American woman recounting a family history that winds up in a clever reversal of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, is actually read from a notebook by the performer.) Setting her own, often entertaining stories more in stone might help Dunn make a stronger connection with her audience.

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