Women on Men | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader
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WOMEN ON MEN

at the Avenue Theatre

Women on Men is less about men than about women and their attitudes toward men--fathers, sons, husbands, would-be husbands, buyers of skin magazines, and the superstuds of bodice-ripper fiction. Though two of the six monologues that make up Cynthia Desmond's one-woman show are flat-out satire, the others reflect intensely personal and frequently contradictory feelings.

This ambivalence is expressed most overtly in the sketch in which a young mother unburdens herself to her uncomprehending two-year-old son, confessing that she married her proctologist husband because she would never be better than him at his craft. She wonders why, after encouraging her spouse to be more open about his emotions, she looks at him with contempt on the one occasion when he gives way to tears--and why she suddenly feels threatened by his vulnerability. She even admits to being resentful that her son takes for granted her constant attention, but openly adores his largely absent father. But, she concludes, this indifferent treatment is as it should be. She recalls the males she admired in her youth, each one most desirable when he was concentrating on his work and ignoring her. "That's why women get pregnant--to have, always, a piece of the busy man who can't be with them all the time."

The division between the ideal and the actual female provides the theme for three of the monologues. One of them has a Playboy cover girl relentlessly pitching her image as the Perfect Woman ("You are the conquerer, and I am the soil into which you drive your flag!") only to grow jealous when her audience, which turns out to be a newsstand browser, turns his attention to another publication filled with "girls who spread as easy as jam." Then there's the lecturer on the topic "Men, Money, and Manipulation: The Three Essentials," who instructs us in the art of obliterating all evidence of metabolic functions, natural complexion, and intelligent opinion--all for material gain. "You may think that this will turn you into a Stepford wife, but do you remember that great big house that Katharine Ross lived in?" More matter-of-fact is the Brooklyn author of romance fiction who laments the waning of "bitches with no apologies," like Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn, who made way for heroines whose strength must be mitigated by psychological flaws or frilly underwear. "And how about a bedroom scene where he's completely naked and all we see of her is a glimpse of her bare ass!"

Overall, the brief--50-minute--Women on Men emerges as more style than substance. Many of the perfect-woman gags have been heard in sorority houses for decades. The "If Only I Were a Man" fantasy in one sketch suggests some motives for misandry, but covers little territory not explored by Paula Killen in the "limbo" sequence of A Cocktail of Flowers. Yet Desmond's final monologue does deliver a rarely articulated insight about the demands daughters often make on their fathers, whom they idealize much as men often idealize women. Its conclusion is no less startling for being the only logical one, but it requires far too much conventional weepiness to set it up.

Fortunately Desmond has plenty of style, loads of charm, and an engaging knack for physical humor--as when, as the Playboy odalisque, she runs the gamut of pinup poses fully clothed, and demonstrates how to purse one's mouth like an inflatable doll's "which will lead him to believe that you will engage in sex acts which will disgust you after marriage." Her prodigious skills as a raconteuse make for an entertaining if only marginally enlightening evening.

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