THE GIRLS OF THEIR DREAMS
Mom and Dad Productions
at Preston Bradley Center
The Girls of Their Dreams is a primitive effort. It consists of two one-act plays, August Strindberg's brief curtain raiser, The Stronger, and a surreal romp by Tom Eyen called The White Whore and the Bit Player. The plays are being performed on the fifth floor of the Preston Bradley Center, in a room so small that the four rows of folding chairs set up for the audience occupy almost as much space as the stage. As the name suggests, Mom and Dad Productions doesn't have much money. Costumes, set, and lighting are makeshift.
On top of that, director Joe Feliciano--the "dad" of the ensemble--displays more enthusiasm than experience or sound judgment. The Stronger, for example, is done as a shadow play. A gauze curtain separates the audience from the stage, and a strong light behind the actresses throws their shadows onto the scrim. That's what the audience sees throughout this 15-minute piece--the actresses themselves are never visible. While this certainly eliminates the need for costly costumes, it also reduces the performers to mere silhouettes. This is like piping the music of a symphony orchestra from a remote location into the concert hall--it just diminishes the experience.
But despite its many shortcomings, this production displays so much sincerity and ambition that it deserves to be placed in a higher class of also-rans. Feliciano's decision to pair these two plays was astute, and the two actresses in The White Whore and the Bit Player attack the material with such ferocity that they energize Eyen's script, though they fail to illuminate it.
Both plays are about a woman lurching toward insight. In The Stronger, Mrs. X, played by Jill Burrichter, sits down in a cafe on Christmas Eve with her former rival, Miss Y (Marta Touloumes), who never utters a word. Mrs. X, married to the man who used to be Miss Y's lover, at first adopts a condescending tone. "It makes me feel really sad to see you alone in a cafe on Christmas Eve," says Mrs. X, just before showing off the gifts she has purchased for her husband and their children. She even invites Miss Y over that evening, "just to show that you're not offended with us, or anyhow, not with me."
But as she babbles on, Mrs. X gradually realizes that her victory over Miss Y has come at enormous cost. She has practically absorbed Y's personality in an effort to please her husband. She embroiders tulips on his slippers because Miss Y likes tulips; they named their first child after Y's father. "I had to wear your colors, read your books, eat the dishes you liked, drink your drinks," Mrs. X cries out. "Everything, everything came to me from you--even your passions. Your soul bored into mine like a worm into an apple, and ate and ate and burrowed and burrowed, till nothing was left but the skin and a little black mold." Even more horrible, Mrs. X eventually convinces herself that this negation of herself was for the best, because it helped her land her husband. "You couldn't learn from others, you couldn't bend, and so you broke like a dry stick," she tells Miss Y. "I did not. Thank you for all your lessons."
The White Whore and the Bit Player is about an actress, obviously modeled on Marilyn Monroe, who is reviewing her entire life in the seconds before she dies, by hanging, in the mental hospital where she is confined. Her self is represented by two figures--a sexy whore and a pious nun. But the woman's own view of herself differs drastically from the public's: to her, the blond whore is innocent and virtuous, while the nun is a lecherous monster.
The White Whore, first performed at La Mama in New York in 1964, is written in that slapdash, freely associative style popularized by Jack Kerouac in On the Road and other novels. The nun, for example, blurts out: "Cheap rouge--get me into the lifeboat, Murray! Incandescent eye shadow--save me, Mama, I'm drowning! Hair brushed for hours to look uncombed--someone help me! Breasts freed from binding, suspended, waiting!" Granted, this is supposed to take place in the final hallucinatory seconds of the woman's life, but that doesn't make this stuff any more coherent.
Although Feliciano keeps them in perpetual motion, the two actresses--Alexandra Main as the whore and Brigid Bynum as the nun--seem to have little connection with what they're saying, though they say it energetically enough. They seem to hope that the volume of their screams will somehow penetrate the obscurity of the material.
The two plays offer different views of women who have deformed their own psyches to fit the expectations of those around them. Apparently Feliciano had a vision for these plays, but it's not a vision he's achieved. With more experience, however, Mom and Dad Productions just might start producing some viable offspring.