Catherine Moran

In her incisive one-woman, autobiographical play, "When Something Wonderful Ends," playwright Sherry Kramer recalls coming of age, the death of a beloved parent, Judaism, the Middle East crisis and a concise history of the durable Barbie doll.

In her incisive one-woman, autobiographical play, “When Something Wonderful Ends,” playwright Sherry Kramer recalls coming of age, the death of a beloved parent, Judaism, the Middle East crisis and a concise history of the durable Barbie doll. The often wandering narrative that closes the season for New Jersey’s Playwrights Theater, is performed by Bonnie Black as baby boomer Sherry, and she spins her tale with appealing directness and a sly winking sense of humor.

Actually Barbie, the beloved little plastic doll, is very nearly a character in the play. Its origin and popularity serve as a cushion for political and antiwar observations. Sherry displays a 1962 bubble-cut brunette Barbie, that is in “solid, unremarkable, excellent condition but not exactly mint,” and dresses the doll in a classic pink satin evening gown.

Sherry confesses that dressing the doll as a 10-year-old child was “the start of the end of something wonderful.” Soon afterward, she faced the rude awakening that she was a Jewish teenager living in the Midwest and she couldn’t find a nice Jewish boy to escort her to the high school prom.

The narrative traces Sherry as a grown-up visiting her mother’s grave, and later reacting to the reign of Ayatollah Khomeini, terrorist Osama Bin Laden, the 9/11 tragedy and America’s attack on Iraq.

In a historical note, Sherry traces the importance of Iran and its oil to America and Europe, starting during WWII, and the political consequences. Sherry summarizes with studied insight, noting the abundance of oil that contributed to the building of our lifestyle, but contends that plastic cannot be recycled: Consequently the billions and billions of little Barbies live on.

Making Barbie a pivotal character in her narrative, playwright Kramer writes with a fluid hand that balances grief, conflict and the innocence of youth.

Black is a persuasive storyteller, and she treats Barbie as a teeny co-star, who frequently changes her tiny garments and even rolls across the stage in a sporty little fire-engine-red Aston Martin convertible.

Director John Pietrowski’s knowing and subtle direction allows for the structure of the play to emerge with clarity and the focus of his sole actor to shine with distinction.

Oversize cartons of Barbie doll luggage, Planter’s Peanuts, Ritz and Animal Crackers and a map of the Middle East dominate four large colored circular platforms. Projected visuals of her mother’s gravestone often accents Sherry’s memoir and serve as a reverent finale.

When Something Wonderful Ends

Playwrights Theater, Madison, N.J; 200 seats; $35 top

Production

A Playwrights Theater presentation of a play in one act by Sherry Kramer. Directed by John Pietrowski.

Creative

Set, Richard Turick; costumes, Bettina Bierly; lighting, Richard Currie; sound, graphics, Jeff Knapp; production stage manager, Danielle Constance. Opened April 20, 2007, reviewed April 21. Runs through May 6. Running time: 1 HOUR, 20 MIN.

Cast

Sherry - Bonnie Black
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