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Nora Dunn hits the right notes in ‘Mythical Proportions’

Actress NorDunn stages her poignant storytelling as part her one-woman show “Mythical Proportions” Theater Wit.

Actress Nora Dunn stages her poignant storytelling as part of her one-woman show “Mythical Proportions” at Theater Wit.

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When: Through Sept. 22

Where: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont

Tickets: $24-32

Info: (773) 975-8150;

Run time: 75 minutes, with no intermission

Updated: September 29, 2013 12:47PM

A good 23 years after leaving her stint with “Saturday Night Live,” and just a few weeks after finishing the farcical “Boeing Boeing!” at the Drury Lane Theatre, Chicago-bred actress-writer Nora Dunn has arrived on an intimate stage at Theater Wit to perform “Mythical Proportions,” her 75-minute one-woman show.

Full of lovely surprises, deft characterizations, a multitude of voices and a good deal of self-revelation, the piece is more meditative than flamboyant, and as gently poignant as it is comic. It also offers just enough of a self-portrait to suggest Dunn has arrived at this stage of her life with vivid memories of her financially-strapped Catholic childhood, fully connected to her flower child and Civil Rights era upbringing, and imbued with a bittersweet sense of the fleeting nature of celebrity.

Wearing “Project Runway” alum Peach Carr’s bohemian chic dress of ruched brown stretch fabric trimmed in black lace, Dunn, 61, begins her show with the playfully sexy confessions of an 87-year-old Hollywood talent agent who specialized in molding promising, good-looking young actors for film stardom in the late 1940s and ’50s. Like Dunn (who admits to Marilyn Monroe worship and perpetual nostalgia), she pines for the golden age of producer Darryl F. Zanuck.

Dunn recalls an “SNL” audition with Lorne Michaels that took the form of a fancy restaurant dinner with other cast members, and describes her discomfort with the star-studded reality of show biz that continues to render her somewhat paralyzed. And she confesses to “shutting down” at Hollywood parties, even after her own success.

Dunn also recalls, with searing honesty, the shifting black-white dynamics of her West Side neighborhood. And she then proceeds to tell us us of how she found herself driving across the United States not long ago, and along the way hearing the voice of a 60-something black woman in her head. Dunn goes on to read the “testimony” of that woman and her husband, James, a self-described “colored man” who found comfort in sticking to his own kind, but who ultimately must make the difficult adjustment to accommodate his beloved, college-educated daughter, who marries a white man and gives him mixed-race grandchildren.

From there Dunn moves on to the world according to Joanna, the precocious, free-thinking, subversive poetry-writing 7-year-old with pigtails; to a catastrophic, hypocrisy-ridden celebrity benefit for Amnesty International; to the haunted makeup kit left behind by one of her dad’s actor friends; to “the wooden leg house” that still spooks her;to the tale of her eviction from Central Park by a female police officer who had no idea she had once been a hot property in New York. She also spins the tale of a repressed Englishwoman who finally finds both the sun and her dark inner self on a trip to Los Angeles

Dunn (working without a director) can be tentative at moments, briefly losing her train of thought or letting a crucial dramatic beat elude her. But she is an honest and engaging storyteller with a great grab bag of voices. And her impressionistic show (a paint-splattered backdrop and light-morphing “canvas” suggests her visual arts background) is winningly drawn.


Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic

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