A . . . MY NAME IS ALICE
Prologue Theatre Productions
at the Theatre Building
ALICE IN WOMANLAND
Eta Dorpha Society
at the Beat Kitchen
Both these plays examine popular women's issues--love, divorce, food, cramps, one's identity in the workplace, and abortion. A . . . My Name Is Alice, a musical revue conceived by Joan Micklin Silver and Julianne Boyd, mixes the hilarious with the tasteless, the touching with the maudlin, in a way Carol Burnett might emulate, belting it out and yucking it up with Hollywood pals. On the other end of the theatrical spectrum, Alice in Womanland is decidedly homespun, boasting a bongo accompaniment, a slide show projected on a sheet, and characters who narrate their every action and feeling--"I'm really tired. I think I'll lie down."
With its incomplete picture of women's lives--failed romances, rivalrous families, and frustrated careers--A . . . My Name Is Alice might be more aptly titled A Couple of Chicks Sitting Around Complaining. In the opening number, "All Girl Band," five down-and-out women turn spunky; David Zippel's dangerously pun-filled lyrics sink as low as "Now I'm singing the lead" and "Look who's pulling the strings."
Though they've compiled the work of several artists, Silver and Boyd have managed to come up with almost consistently hackneyed ballads. In "The Portrait," by Amanda McBroom, a woman reflects on the differences between herself and her mother, concluding with the dull phrase "I wonder if I'm living partly her dreams, partly mine." Though Calvin Alexander and James Shorter's "Pay Them No Mind" has a stirring refrain, its "you and me against the world" scenario remains a cliche because the song never explains who these lovers are and why the world is against them. Much better is "Friends," by Georgia Holof and David Mettee, chronicling a lifelong friendship through telephone conversations.
If the maudlin songs outweigh the truly touching ones, at least the hilarious bits outnumber the tasteless ones. In the playful "Trash," by Marta Kauffman, David Crane, and Michael Skloff, a romance-reading receptionist wonders in song, "Why can't my life be trash?" In the skit "Hot Lunch," by Anne Meara, the tables are turned on a construction worker when the victim of his lecherous comments offers to show him her "gazumbas" if he'll show her his "wacobongo." These numbers are silly but fun, offering well-executed caricature and pointed humor. A skit about a women's basketball team, however, descends into childish stereotypes of women athletes as brutish.
The Prologue Theatre cast execute director Michael Hildebrand's simple but interesting choreography well, providing some memorable group numbers. Under the musical direction of Anita Greenberg, they nail the harmonies and some fancy footwork in Carol Hall's "Educated Feet," and though Mark Saltzman and Stephen Lawrence's "Emily, the M.B.A." could pack more punch, it also shows excellent teamwork.
Creating several roles throughout the revue, each actress establishes a type--as well as her own strengths and weaknesses. The strongest comedic presence ("Hot Lunch," "Trash") is Kate Martin, who goes delightfully over the top as a French tart/torch singer who "dies for love--twice a night." Mary K. Nigohosian, who has easily the best voice, gets saddled with the play's cliched ballads and then overemotes. Her broad style, however, succeeds in Steve Tesich and Lucy Simon's "I Sure Like the Boys," one woman's ode to her sexuality. Sidni Kiely's weaker, tremulous singing isn't up to some of the ballads she's assigned, but it's perfect for Honeypot, the blues singer who can only express her passions in heated euphemisms, such as "I need some sweet meat, Daddy," and "I've got a real thing for that thing." Laurie K. Nelson contributes a sweet voice and a flair for comedy, but she'd be better with less mugging. Velda turns up in song after song as the girl with hope and vigor: a 15-year-old on her first date, an aerobics instructor, the enthusiastic leader of a group venturing into a male strip joint. Like the show itself she's gung ho, but she lacks the volume and accurate pitch to deliver a real showstopper.
It's entirely appropriate that the creators of Alice in Womanland call themselves the Eta Dorpha Society, a name they took from an obscure girls' club in a 1914 high school yearbook. It seems that, like the first Eta Dorphans, these girls--writers and directors Cindy Hee, Jennifer Strong, and Molly Surowitz--just want to have fun. Womanland does have fun, with great Wonderland-style costumes by Lisa Marie Harrison, a campy Elvis impersonation by John Dalton, and slide projections of artwork depicting women throughout the ages. Unfortunately, these modern Eta Dorphans also try to teach life lessons with fortune cookie-size bits of wisdom, such as "Trust yourself. That's the only way to find true happiness."
Alice's spiral down the rabbit hole is precipitated by a Playboy bunny and the potent drink she serves the underage girl. During her "trip," Alice (Jennifer Fraser) bounces between little-girl fear and drug-induced euphoria, dancing in a frenzy one moment and slinking sensually the next. She joins three women for a food orgy in the "Garden of Eatin'," discusses the nature of truth with Queen Mab (Hee), learns about Mother Earth at the feet of Queen Anna Maya (Surowitz), explores her body image with the help of two leather-clad slackers (Christina Cary and Avril Germaine VonFalkenberg), and marvels at the flashy Queen Diana (Strong), who tells her that vice is "bad habits that feel good." The point of her journey? To go from girl to woman, "to embrace change, the current of life." So Alice gets her period and leaves her mentors with a group hug.
Alice in Womanland is only slightly more self-indulgent than A . . . My Name Is Alice: both plays seem to shout with every line, "I am woman, hear me roar."