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Catwalk Confidential: A Model's Coming-of-Age Told With Ribald Wit

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Last night's opening of Catwalk Confidential at the Arsht Center's Carnival Studio Theater proved, above all else, that its star, Robyn Peterson, is no dumb former model. The Miami native and creator of this one-woman show may have met plenty of those during her tenure on the international couture défilé, and recalls several of these encounters during the one-act, one-and-a-half-hour show. But the entire thing is infused with a ribald wit and dry sense of humor that makes it easy to forget that Petterson carries the entire narrative herself.

The show, roughly, traces her ascent from (not totally naive) Miami Beach teen, to the new favorite model of Karl Lagerfeld, to, finally, done in the industry and feeling like an old hag at 26. Along the way, she runs away from home, smokes some amazing weed, learns about sex, falls in and out of love, and does all the usual coming-of-age young woman stuff, but with a far more fabulous backdrop.

Yes, the play is nominally about fashion, but it's more a love letter to the swingin' times in which Peterson was lucky enough to grow up. The set design is sparse, just a stool in front of three screens upon which are projected film clips and photos appropriate to the scene. Strikingly, this includes some pretty glamorous footage of Miami Beach's epic hotels of the '60s, as well as, in an early thematic introduction of sorts, early couture shows by old greats like Cardin and Desses. 

Though in our interview with Peterson, she said there were some eight characters in the play, it doesn't really feel that way. Instead, Catwalk Confidential comes across as a particularly entertaining series of memoir anecdotes, with Peterson imitating others she came across. It still works, and there is plenty of mood- and period-appropriate music peppered throughout to keep things moving along.

There are some pretty choice lines, as well. The first male member she ever sees is referred to, cringe-inducingly, as "his hooded plumbing pipe." But the real laughs come during the period of the show set in '70s Paris. At one point, a former top model Diane distractedly informs Petterson, "I used to be a real person before I became the face of last season." At another, we get a second-hand bit of advice from Janice Dickinson, who told Peterson "the only way to get your things tight is by fucking on top. It's the only exercise worth doing."

Along the way we also learn about the "fuck-you fashion moment," which is when "an outfit is so perfect that time stops, and you never, ever forget it." There are plenty of those dutifully displayed via photo around this time of the show, too, which is a particular treat for vintage clothing fans. 

Though the show's billed partly as a rumination on aging, there actually isn't too much of that, either, until near the end when Peterson (and her disapproving mother!) really realize she's on her way out of modeling. But everyone knows that models don't much make it past the legal drinking age, so there's no real surprise here. 

Still, Peterson emerges triumphant at the end, truly owning her body and herself. She's still stunningly beautiful, and her message of growth and self-acceptance is underscored by the fact that she hasn't caved in to the mania for surgical or injection enhancement. 

As a final note, how about a reminder of basic live theater etiquette. (We spent most of our youth in overcrowded Miami-Dade public jails schools and still picked this up, so there aren't a lot of excuses.) If you're late, you're late. Don't expect to be seated, and if you are, feel ashamed and try to make as little noise as possible. Absolutely do not buy drinks or snacks to slurp or munch during the performance. (Arsht Center ushers usually catch this, but considering we've seen people pull sandwiches out of their purses in the venue's Knight Concert Hall, they can't catch everything.) 

Also, there are no bathroom breaks. It's not a movie. Finally, if you must bring cough drops or the like, don't bring the kind that must be retrieved from individual wrappers in what sounds like the World's Noisiest Foil Packet. 

This is especially true during a small production with only one performer, who runs the biggest risk of distraction, which would then spoil the whole thing for everyone. Yes, these rules are borne out of common sense and common courtesy for your fellow arts patrons, but there are many adults out there who apparently need to be reminded.

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