HERE WE ARE
Acme Arts Company
at Talisman Theatre
At first these two one-acts seem to ridicule women. Here We Are, adapted from a Dorothy Parker short story, is about a woman married less than three hours who keeps picking silly fights with her new husband as they ride the train to New York for their honeymoon. And Ellen Byron's Graceland is about two Elvis worshipers camped out in front of the dead singer's mansion on the day it's scheduled to open to the public, fighting over who will be the first to set foot inside.
But underneath their cartoonish behavior, these three women, especially the two in Graceland, are struggling to deal with the unhappiness and anxiety men have caused them. Both plays are actually taking good, healthy pokes at male egotism.
In Graceland both women have turned Elvis into a Christ surrogate. They literally worship him. "I have loved him with the purest and truest love possible since I was 15," says Bev, the older of the two. "I have dedicated my life to this man, to preserving his memory, to showing the world there is only one true singer and that's Elvis." Rootie, who has fled to Graceland after being cruelly humiliated by her husband, actually believes Elvis might rise from the dead. "I'm gonna make him come back," she announces. "If you love somebody enough, you can. I was watching this movie yesterday and it was called Brigadoon, and Gene Kelly made a whole village come back just because he loved the girl so much."
Anyone familiar with the plays of Beth Henley will hear in this dialogue shades of her trademark southern-gothic weirdness; Graceland premiered at a one-act festival sponsored by the Actors Theatre of Louisville in 1983, when Henley was approaching the peak of her popularity. Byron's characters, like Henley's, are neurotic buffoons. But Byron also allows their pathetic side to show through.
Bev, for example, is married to a boring man who has a tendency to repeat a few stories over and over, but she discovered that if she thought about Elvis while her husband droned on, "I got this really happy look on my face, and he went nuts." As a solution this is ridiculous, of course, but it's a valiant attempt to cope with a self-centered man who is interested in her only because she's a "good listener."
Reading between Rootie's lines, one soon discovers that her husband, Weebo, is cruel and self-absorbed. She eats almost nothing because "My Weebo always says that if a woman ain't got a shelf, then she should at least be as thin as a sideways door." He also says that "the only things a woman should make are dinner, the beds, and out." By the time she reveals what he did to her that caused her to flee to Graceland, Weebo has become a malevolent presence in the play.
Here We Are is similar in style and intent. The young bride is certainly high-strung and silly, but underneath she's struggling with her fear that she won't be loved and accepted by her new husband. He seems to be interested in only one thing--consummating the marriage. Though he tries to make innocuous small talk, his words are laden with double meaning. "The nights are going to be pretty long from now on," he says, then stammers, "I mean . . . I mean--well, it starts getting dark early." To him, his wife's comments seem charged with sexual innuendo. While marveling about the way people get married all the time despite the complexity of the arrangements, she says, "I don't see how people do it every day"--a comment that startles her husband to full attention.
Both of these plays are character sketches, which means they depend heavily on the actors. In Graceland Ann Fuhrman captures the manic intensity of Bev's passion for Elvis while endowing her character with the patience, insight, and maturity of an older woman. And Diane Lesniak makes Rootie's childlike need for affection painfully clear. Through their performances, this Acme Arts Company production transcends its puny budget.
Tim Kivel and Anita Slattery, however, push a little too hard as the newlyweds in Here We Are. Though they're playing characters who are under terrific strain, the strain would be more believable if it weren't projected through obvious grimaces and nervous tics.