Mommy, suburban-blond and cardiganed, lies curled up on the sofa. Daddy, just home from work, unburdens himself of briefcase and joins her. Daddy wants to play. "Once upon a time," he proclaims, "I was a star of the Russian ballet." After some prompting Mommy follows suit, sort of. "Once upon a time," she deadpans, "I was a 500-pound porn star. I used to let men pee in my mouth."
In Mother's Couch (Flea Theatre), Mommy and Daddy's round of let's pretend serves as a gateway drug. It leads to many more sportssome frivolous, some serious, some deadly. No sooner have the couple entered into a second gamea mild s/m scenario involving handcuffsthan two would-be robbers burst in. Max, the softheaded gunman, and Argentina, his hard-hearted moll, thrust Mommy and Daddy into new roles, those of helpful hostages. Daddy passes out drinks, Mommy hands over the cuffs and offers dinner. With the subsequent arrivals of the couple's young daughter and a neurotic neighbor, the roles reverse again, for both criminals and victims.
Playwright Erin Courtney's characters use these games as approach-avoidance tactics, allowing them to endure, and even embrace, terrifying situations terminating the make-believe whenever the situation becomes too real. And Courtney, a talented young writer with some charming turns of phrase, should be pleased at having found such an enthusiastic cast. Stephanie Weldon's chirpy Mommy and Paula Ehrenberg as the union-suit-clad daughter stand out, as does the couch itselfa plump looker that would do any drawing room proud. Alexis Soloski
In the realms of art and entertainment, being earnest isn't very important at all. Perhaps that's why After the Fair, an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's story "On the Western Circuit," is such a ho-hum (York Theater Company). During the four-character chamber musical, Anna, an illiterate maid in an upper-middle-class home 100 miles from London, falls for Charles, a barrister visiting the local fair. Unable to answer his subsequent billets-doux, she prevails on her bored-with-marriage mistress, Edith, to correspond for her. The inevitable happens, as fans of Cyrano de Bergerac will foresee. The barrister falls in love with the lady of the letters, learning who really wielded the mighty pen only after his wedding to the guileless Anna. Once again, literature makes the point that it's no fun being a go-between. But whereas Cyrano et al. tug at the heartstrings, Anna, Charles, Edith, and husband Arthur, an unimaginative wine merchant, are only a pain in the neck. Is it Hardy's problem, or has librettist-lyricist Stephen Cole (the sweet, nonstick music is Matthew Ward's) simply been unable to give four imperceptive figures any appealing characteristics? Or make credible some gaping plot holes? Why doesn't Charles recognize that the giggling hoyden he seduced at the fair can't have composed the fervent letters written on expensive stationery? Possibly Cole was hoping the qualities his people don't have in the lines would be supplied by the actor-singers, but if that was his wish, it hasn't been granted. Michele Pawk, Jennifer Piech, James Ludwig, and David Staller, as directed by Travis L. Stockley, perform at a level equal to the mediocrity of the entire enterprise. Maybe they were working too hard on the English accents they never quite mastered. David Finkle
Frida Kahlo painted in many colors, but her story will always be rendered in purple. Prose, that is. With Goodbye, My Friduchita (the Directors Company), playwright Dolores C. Sendler freely indulges the lefto-feminist hagiography Kahlo frequently inspires. Kahlo had everything that makes for a role model these days (not counting her partially German ancestry). She was a communist, a self- mythologizing artist, a lover of Trotsky, and a Mexican nationalist who, by virtue of her abusive marriage to muralist Diego Rivera, lived the glamorous life while remaining an outsider. The average Nuyorican poet has nothing on her.
Most important, the woman was in pain. Excruciating physical and emotional pain. Sendler spares us none of it, from the bus accident in which a metal handrail pierces Kahlo's hip and exits her vagina, to the miscarriage, to the stabbing she suffers at Diego's hand, to the drug addiction and spinal taps. But there's little drama in Friduchita, unless your idea of theatricality consists of Priscilla López as Kahlo describing a miscarriage and wailing in agony. Sendler emphasizes research, leaching human interactions from the play. She subjects the audience to undramatized descriptions of events in Kahlo's life, two-person scenes performed by one person, and, most boringly, Kahlo's letters read aloud. The playwright too often lapses into self- conscious "writerly" prose: "Your absence lingers as it pulses with the breath of the stars." Designer Troy Hourie's set, pumped with high-affect colors and multiple projection screens, and Michael John Garcés's sharp direction do a wonderful job of distracting you from the limitations of the text, as do the charismatic López and Anilú Pardo as Young Frida. "My life has gone from pain to paint," Kahlo proclaims. We've taken the opposite journey. James Hannaham
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