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The Catherine Wheel


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The Catherine Wheel, Bailiwick Repertory.

Halberstadt, Prussia, 1717: Catherine Linck, disguised as a man, meets and marries Catherine Muhlhahn, and the two women live together as husband and wife for four years until they're arrested on a charge of sodomy. Their trial, recounted in court records of 1721, entails much legal and theological discourse on the question of whether women are technically capable of such a crime.

Playwright Ingrid MacDonald bases The Catherine Wheel on this true story, but to make her play a complete narrative with fully drawn characters would have required more research and imagination than she reveals here. She sketches in the lovers' backgrounds in a series of short scenes and in dialogue that jumbles together poetic and colloquial speech ("My blood talks to me...I wanna fuck her!") in a manner that's meant to suggest Brecht but comes closer to a comic book. This impression is heightened by L.M. Attea's staging: her cast play their roles in a broad, cartoon style. Amanda McCluskey's Linck swaggers and huffs like Mighty Mouse, slapping around Molly Glynn Hammond's childlike Kathy until she threatens, in the best TV-movie tradition, to kick him out if he doesn't behave. The other characters--a shrewish mother, a sympathetic prostitute, assorted male pigs--are likewise shallow, driven only by the plot.

An interesting play and a timely lesson might have been crafted from the story of this persecuted lesbian couple. But Bailiwick's propagandistic production simply preaches to the choir--the only audience likely to take this underdeveloped parable seriously.

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