NAOMI IN THE LIVING ROOM and
We're From Boston Theatre Company
at Cafe Voltaire
Those who saw Mary-Arrchie's production of Peter Hedges's Imagining Brad a few years ago may recall a grotesque little fable populated by grotesque little characters--entertaining, to be sure, and heartbreaking in their vulnerability but ultimately more a product of the actors' and director's interpretation than of the playwright's invention. The We're From Boston Theatre Company, however, eschews presentational gimmickry to deliver a stark, simple vignette that reveals Hedges as a writer of surprising craft and subtlety.
Dana Sue's marriage is apparently everything a woman could want: Alex does all the chores, showers her with sumptuous gifts, makes love like a prize stallion, and phones her from his hotel room when he's away on business to read her "sexy passages" from the Bible. Valerie's husband, Brad, doesn't work, refuses to be photographed even for their wedding picture, and never leaves the house--yet Valerie insists, with a quiet confidence that contrasts sharply with Dana Sue's incessant boasting, that her marriage too is happy. As the friendship between the two women deepens, Dana Sue's curiosity about these eccentric newlyweds turns to horror at the circumstances behind Brad's devotion, then to envy as she's forced to face the hypocrisy of her own "perfect" marriage. Valerie also has her moments of doubt but emerges convinced that she made the right choice of husband.
Hedges displays a minutely detailed understanding of the defensive fantasies of submissive codependents like Dana Sue--her effusive adoration of her husband's athletic prowess, for example. Valerie recognizes these immediately as clues to Dana Sue's sordid secret, and a less self-absorbed person than Dana Sue might have noted something beyond ordinary nostalgia in Valerie's wistful memories of holding hands. But Hedges sets up his punch line so ingeniously that such hints can be lost on the audience as well (unless we've seen the play before), making us ashamed of our own blindness. In view of not only Dana Sue's denial but our own, Valerie's grim but efficacious solution seems chillingly logical.
Director Carol Marie Gould and her cast--Lynn Anne Byron as Dana Sue and Deb Doetzer as Valerie--wisely resist the melodrama, focusing instead on Hedges's unflinching parable about social problems more often confronted in terms of safe abstract statistics.
Raising the curtain--if that term is applicable in Cafe Voltaire's dungeonlike basement--is Naomi in the Living Room, a facile mommy-bashing snippet by eternal preadolescent Christopher Durang. The play centers around the title character (Gould) and her radical emotional swings, an affliction she uses to bully her oedipussy-whipped son (David DeCastro, who also directs) and his wimpish wife (Byron). With enough searching, some deeper meaning might be found in Durang's flimsy text--a commentary on the short memories of dysfunctional family members, perhaps. But the troupe seems to have focused (wisely) on Imagining Brad, and let slide the rescue of Durang's sketchy Mommie Dearest exercise.
Sharing the curtain-raising duties on the night I attended was special guest Betsy Salkind, a stand-up who has plans to decimate the cockroach population by introducing drugs to their community ("It didn't work--they were paying off the cats"), recently converted to Christian Science ("It was the only health care plan I could afford"), and does a remarkable imitation of a New York squirrel.
In my review of Look Back in Anger last week I inadvertently neglected to credit Pauline Farren as codirector and misspelled Phillip Edward Van Lear's name. My apologies.