On Stage

The Shoe Play

A sole-searching story

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

There were a few moments during last Friday’s showing of Quality: The Shoe Play when the fourth wall got a bit wobbly.

It wasn’t a big surprise. Since Bellingham TheatreWorks is staging the play about two women fighting a sole-searching battle for supremacy at a high-end shoe store at an actual shoe store, the conceptual barrier between the fictional work and its viewers was already thinner than one would expect at a night at the theater.

But rather than detract from the performance, the short periods of reality—an ambulance roaring by Fairhaven’s 12th Street Shoes, the actresses brushing within centimeters of audience members sitting in the front row, and a friendly passerby stopping to hold the store’s front doors open for one of the characters who appeared to be struggling with a large box—only added to the appeal.

In fact, by the time Pippa (Western Washington University senior Jacki Campbell) smiled and said “thank you” to the helpful pedestrian who opened the door for her as she entered the “stage” from the sidewalk, I was already hooked. The fact that she didn’t miss a beat when dealing with exterior forces kept me on the line.

Following a script by Vancouver-based playwright Elaine Avila with direction by WWU grad Kayla Adams, the story focuses on what happens after Pippa uses her smarts to get hired at a famous designer’s shoe store by the savvy, sexy manager, Roxanne (Brie Turoff Mueller, a recent New York City transplant).

Thanks to Pippa’s ability to both channel the personalities of shoes and also follow Roxanne’s lead—at least when it comes to how to deal with the fussy customers who purchase the expensive footwear—she’s soon the leading saleswoman.

But it turns out that beneath her mild-mannered exterior, Pippa is more ambitious than she lets on. While Roxanne is centered on keeping the brand classic and out-of-reach to all but those with financial fortitude, Pippa reaches out to the designer to suggest lower-cost alternatives. When her ideas are implemented, the two strong women come to an impasse.

Because it’s a two-person play, the audience never sees the customers they’re catering to. Instead, the duo channels the women through “lessons” Roxanne imparts to Pippa, where they both take on the personalities of everyone from a filthy-rich actress to an overweight socialite and a woman who has saved up for a year to be able to purchase a pair of sought-after heels.

Among the hilarity of what I’m going to call a “shoe-gasm” and lighter moments that see the two accomplished actresses banter with each other like sparring partners, Quality: The Shoe Play also features deeper issues such as jealousy and self-worth—relating both to the customers and its employees.

Once Pippa sees that Roxanne has spent years passing on her ideas on to the designer—“I’m his muse!” Roxanne argues—she makes it clear that she won’t let that happen to her.

I could tell that resonated with other members of the audience, as well. There’s a telling moment when Roxanne is defending herself to Pippa when she declares that she is happy being the inspiration for such a great man.

“Inspire yourself,” the woman behind me muttered.

You’ll have to purchase a ticket to the play to find out if that’s what ultimately happens, but suffice it to say that for both Pippa and Roxanne, the outcome—and the play itself—is about a whole lot more than shoes.

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