Early in her autobiographical monologue How The Hell Did I Get Here?, Lesley Nicol notes that as a child she was described as “bonny,” which can mean either pretty or a bit too chubby. By the same token, describing a show as “cute” can mean either it’s charming or merely trivial. Fortunately, in Nicol’s case, it’s the former: her tales of growing from a painfully shy cross-eyed child into a literally world-famous character actor are sweet and funny, if not world-shatteringly insightful. She and coauthor-composer Mark Mueller wisely break up the string of anecdotes with original music which, like her singing voice, is pleasant if unmemorable. And the actress is so appealing as she performs the pratfalls she claims dominated her early career that you root for her to succeed, all the while knowing she will do just that.
How the Hell Did I Get Here?
Through 4/3: Wed-Thu 7 PM, Sat 3 and 8 PM, Sun 3 PM (except Sun 4/3, 2 PM); Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln, 773-404-7336, greenhousetheater.org, $30-$89.
So I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Nicol describe her experiences at boarding school (“Why was this bitch running an institution when she should have been in one?”), meeting Richard Chamberlain at nine and again at 59 (“still just as gorgeous”), and encountering a staring farmer in a field in China who finally asked, through the translator, “Is that the lady from Downton Abbey?” Only near the end, when she mentioned the upcoming Downton movie (Nicol reprises her role as Mrs. Patmore, the cook for the aristocratic Crawford family) was there a certain sinking feeling that the entire show had been a commercial for its May opening. But as Nicol described her feelings on seeing her name precede Maggie Smith’s on the big screen, and her wish that her parents were still alive to see it, her genuine joy and regret were surprisingly moving.