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Two Plays, Fat and Thin 

A pair of current productions have more in common than you might think

Wednesday, Aug 1 2001
In a quest to find interesting new plays, I dropped in on Girl Meets Girl, about some lesbians, and Mary in the Hydrangea Bush, about four straight people in a beach house. They have a lot in common. Mary shows the aftermath of an Ecstasy-fueled, heterosexual foursome in Laguna Beach. Girl involves a straight-laced edi-tor in San Francisco who falls in love with a stripper at her 40th birthday party. Both deal with infidelity and sexual complications in the modern world -- and both were written by gay men.

Mary also happens to be garnished with an examination of Edgar Allan Poe's tawdry death in Baltimore, a mysterious teenage murder, and book chat about the Southern Gothic tradition. The impressive set (by director John Sowle) emphasizes the story's mixture of present and past. The beach-house living room has a glass coffee table held up by enormous, leather-bound books. In front of the wide picture window hangs a series of Gothic arches. At stage left there's a gloomy, art nouveau door with a poppy theme. Characters come out of the bedroom two at a time -- disheveled in bathrobes, or towels, or baseball caps -- to talk about what went on the night before. Since no one mentions the Gothic arcade (which is awfully conspicuous), I assume it's a stylistic touch.

The story's center of gravity is a Southern playwright, Mary, who at first feels no pangs of remorse about the orgy. She thoroughly enjoyed sex with Ed, the black man married to her friend Lois; sex with Lois was good, too, and so was watching the husbands fuck. Now she just wants to work out some new ideas for a play. One idea, naturally, is a foursome in a beach house. Another idea -- more haunting -- deals with a high school friend who was found dead at 17 under a hydrangea bush. This friend was the sister of Mary's husband Allen and of Mary's lover, Jason. The dead girl's name also happens to be Mary, so Mary's working title for her play is Mary in the Hydrangea Bush.

On top of these complications, playwright Joe Besecker lets Jason step in as a dream figure to discuss Edgar Allan Poe's death. In fact, Besecker layers so many alternate meanings onto his poor characters that it's hard to tell if he's joking. Is the dead Mary like Poe, or is she like Caddy in The Sound and the Fury? Is the vaguely sinister Jason an incarnation of the novel's Jason Compson? Is Mary's husband Allen a doomed, postmodern Quentin? "I am not a character in Faulkner!" he actually snaps, in his bathrobe. "My sister did not smell like trees, and my mother may have been many things, but she was never a fish!" The joke is lame as well as obscure.

Still, the show revolves around an interesting woman, played beautifully by Danielle Thys. In Thys' hands Mary is lofty, tart, uninhibited, and world-weary; she deals with her friends and lovers with distracted affection and a casual dirty mouth. If Allen weren't so virile, she tells Ed, "He'd finish and leave me flappin' on the bed, havin' my multiple oah-gasms all alone." Besecker imagines a morning conversation for every possible pair of lovers, but you wish Mary could be in every scene. Ian Walker, as Ed, is the other outstanding actor; he's energetic and well controlled, although his character is an unbelievable pop-culture mélange. (A former ballplayer for the San Francisco Giants, the son of Vernon Jordan, and a descendant of Edgar Allan Poe?)

Mary has problems, like any delicate Southerner, but the script is at least substantial. In this respect it parts company with Girl Meets Girl. If Girl sounds to you like a generic lesbian sex comedy, it is; the deception here is not in the title. The listed authors are "Sally Stover and Maddy Alexander" -- presumably lesbians -- and everyone in the theater community thought Girl was a companion piece to Ronnie Larsen's A Few Gay Men only in the sense that the same person, Caryn Horowitz, produced both. In fact, Ronnie Larsen wrote the script for Girl with Craig Fox (Stover and Alexander are pseudonyms). This fiasco has reportedly upset some lesbian audience members, who make a point of supporting lesbian playwrights and are no longer sure if they liked Girl. (In the first scene, Sarah Gaboury performs a real, overlong striptease. That pretty much sets the tone.) But Girl Meets Girl is a formulaic piece of junk with a gallery of cookie-cutter women -- a Women's Studies Professor, an Earth Mother, a Student Lesbian, an Executive -- which must have taken two hours to write. It's bad no matter who perpetrated it. I suppose it works as satire, but did Larsen have that in mind? After all, he's known for his nude-boy pieces (Peep Shows, Making Porn) and not for his grace with dialogue.


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