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Women Behind Bars 

Mediocre acting keeps this lesbian sendup of women's prison films from busting free

Wednesday, Apr 3 2002
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The longest-running GLBT theater in the country, Theatre Rhinoceros has produced its share of diverse shows (last year's production of Rhinoceros was locally unmatched), but for the most part it caters overwhelmingly to its large male fan base, which can't seem to get enough of shows like Naked Boys Singing. I'm sure that the initiative to produce Tom Eyen's Women Behind Bars, a "stage noir" sendup of women's prison films of the 1950s, was well intentioned -- especially the choice of its all-female cast. But the play isn't particularly successful. Eyen's script is a satire about a gaggle of misfits who end up in a high-security prison run by a bitchy lesbian matron (Mary Knoll) and her slutty degenerate sidekick, Louise (Treacy Corrigan). Together they threaten, torture, and execute their innocent and not-so-innocent prisoners, who claim to be doing time for committing such felonies as killing a hairdresser, pedaling without a bicycle, and poisoning multiple husbands. The intentionally archetypal characters range from the innocent Long Island blonde (Joan Grinde) to the dippy prostitute (Beverly McGriff) to the tough-talking butch dyke (Alexandra Matthew), and the satire isn't entirely funny. While Matthew has a compelling stage presence and Diane Wasnak, as the deranged pyromaniac, performs some skilled acrobatic feats, the acting -- imitating screen performances from the '50s -- is mediocre. Under Russell Blackwood's direction, the play never even gets sexy (unlike the rest of the company's seasonal repertoire). While it's about time that women took the main stage at the Rhino, this piece might have been better -- or at least funnier -- with drag queens. Part of the problem may be that Theatre Rhinoceros does too few plays written by, directed by, or about real-life lesbians to warrant a satire like this. Whatever the case, I think it's best to keep this one locked up, with no chance of parole.

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Karen Macklin

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