KPBS AIRDATE: May 27, 2005
A woman who desperately wants a man – and a man who desperately wants to be a woman. Gender takes center stage in two plays with fascinating premises and excellent performances.
In “Viburnum,” the most acclaimed production of last year’s Fritz Blitz of New Plays by California Playwrights, we meet Verne, the spinster who’s got one last chance, one final date. She has virtually no experience with men, lives in the past, lamenting her long-dead mother and cold, distant father. As she comes downstage to describe her pathetic little life, she’s interrupted by a trio of women, a sprightly preteen fantasist, a 20-something idealist and a 40-ish cynic. After awhile, we realize that these are earlier incarnations of herself, who chastise and berate her like cruel sisters. But Verne retains a shred of hope that maybe this time, she can have a smidgen of success and a modicum of happiness.
In Doug Field’s beguiling play, reprised by the Fritz in tweaked and shortened form, the ending is left deliciously enigmatic. First-rate director Katie Rodda has retained most of her original, outstanding ensemble, with the melancholic but optimistic Rhona Gold at the center, surrounded by delightfully energetic Rachael von Wormer, perky if delusional Sharla Boggs and amusingly astringent D. Candis Paule. It isn’t a pretty picture, of women eternally waiting by the phone, but Field’s perception of men is none too favorable, either. His is a poignant play, performed by an excellent, affecting ensemble.
“Looking for Normal” also paints a picture that’s slightly askew. After two kids and 25 years of marriage, middle-class, Midwestern Roy needs a change. A big one. He feels he’s been living a lie; he’s really a woman trapped in a man’s body, and he’s determined to have a sex-change operation. Jane Anderson’s humorously discomforting but compassionate play shows the full spectrum of reactions to this cataclysmic announcement, via a range of ancillary and frankly unnecessary characters; a well-meaning pastor, a mildly amorous boss, Roy’s maternalistic mother and curmudgeonly father, and his pontificating ghost of a grandma. Though each is well played, the real story is in the immediate family, in the heartbreaking responses of the pubescent tomboy daughter, hostile older son and put-upon wife, who’s asked to stay with Roy even after he becomes Ruth, because she’s the love of his life. John Rosen and Terri Park are terrific as the shell-shocked couple, and Natasha Feldman and Lance Rogers are tragically credible as their kids. As crusty Roy Sr., Duane Leake makes a touching transition from patriarch to second infancy.
Both compelling plays, and their stirring, sensitive productions, concern an aching need, but ultimately, they’re redefining trust and love.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.