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Manchester Girl

Writer-actress Sue Turner-Cray has fashioned a fascinating if overstated journey of discovery for protagonist Sara, a British working class teen with limbs that go on forever. Turner-Cray and Amy Wieczorek score some telling comical and dramatic points, but tend to dwell a bit too long on scenes that have outlived their usefulness to the overall narrative.

Using her five-year experience as a fashion model for inspiration, writer-actress Sue Turner-Cray (Disney’s “James and the Giant Peach”) has fashioned a fascinating if overstated journey of discovery for protagonist Sara, a British working class teen with limbs that go on forever. Moving freely about a near-bare stage, she makes plausible the transformation of a gawky, self-deprecating 18-year-old from Leiscester, England, into an internationally successful glamour queen succumbing to the temptations of sex and drugs while struggling to stay a permanent size 2. Turner-Cray and co-director Amy Wieczorek score some telling comical and dramatic points, but tend to dwell a bit too long on scenes that have outlived their usefulness to the overall narrative.

Accompanied by evocative pre-recorded sound effects, Turner-Cray introduces the effervescent Sara as a schoolgirl who instinctively knows she doesn’t want to be swallowed up by the stifling, blue-collar conformity of her hometown.

Encouraged by her mother, Sara goes to Manchester to study modeling, quickly learning the moves and style necessary to be impressive on the runway. Sara eventually comes under the tutelage of rotund modeling maven Doreen who whisks her off to Japan where the leggy beauty soon becomes the darling of Japan’s top designers.

Constantly warned by Doreen that “there are no fat models,” Sara nonetheless succumbs to the consequences of the good life and bad men.

Utilizing a strategically placed wind machine to whip her hair about, Turner-Cray is a stunner when she turns on her high fashion runway technique. With minimal costume and makeup enhancement, she exudes the bravura of a natural beauty who has learned to become totally comfortable with her physical assets.

The actress also exhibits an infectious comic timing and gift for mimicry when personifying the various women in Sara’s life, including her stoic mom, the jolly, ever-munching Doreen and a slew of her colorful modeling peers.

The actress is not as successful in her portrayals of the men who often come off as posturing caricatures. Scenes with Sara’s main love interest, Fernando, a cerebral but physically volatile Japanese-Peruvian who serves as her guru to the high life in Japan, strain the actress’s ability to keep viable the masculine impression.

What does work is Turner-Cray’s depiction of Sara’s emotional and intellectual evolution, enabling her to eventually orchestrate her own path to salvation. With some judicious trimming and a re-think of the masculine side of this Sara saga, the legs are certainly there for a run at an Off Broadway venue.

Manchester Girl

Hudson Mainstage, Hollywood; 99 seats; $15 top

  • Production: A Hudson Mainstage presentation of a play in one act. Written and performed by Sue Turner-Cray, directed by Turner-Cray and Amy Wieczorek.
  • Crew: Lights, Christian Smith; sound, Turner-Cray. Opened April 12, 2002; reviewed May 2; closes May 25. Running time: 1 HOUR 35 MIN.
  • Cast: Sara - Sue Turner-Cray<br>
  • Music By: