BACKBONE: AN EVENING OF THEATRE FOR WOMEN, Dorothy Nickle Performing Arts Company, at Wing & Groove Theatre. Luckily Backbone is not spineless, with its allusions to child abuse, sexual molestation, abortion, rape, infidelity, infertility, suicide, and drugs. But unfortunately the crises arrive without a single surprise in this overlong, overwritten two-hour evening of six one-acts, five of them written and directed by David-Matthew Barnes. He makes every obvious choice, leaving no cliche unturned and declaring, if not screaming, every subtext.
The subtitle is both condescending and misleading: these plays are decidedly not for women, who are portrayed as bitchy predators or self-pitying victims, self-destructive in their codependency and constantly belittling themselves. Here sisterly solidarity takes a backseat to sheer dysfunction. There's pathos to spare in the sketches of folks in sad situations of their own making, and some humor in the blatant put-down of Hollywood phonies at the Academy Awards. But Barnes gives his make-believe no mystery: the material is TV thin, with smug moralizing and easy stereotypes.
The performances follow suit: they have energy to spare but there's not a nuance in sight. The intensity of Cat Dean and Ivan Vega tearing their throats out as anguished, druggie lovers makes their scene seem almost fresh. But the best is a short piece by an anonymous author: performing in Spanish and English, Rosalba Pi–a plays a doomed young woman for whom the repeated arrival of flowers presages death. Unlike Barnes's generic fare, this piece welcomes the imagination.