Chromosomes in Conflict

Although Rebekah Brunstetter’s new drama is subtitled "A Lady Play," the main character is Trevor, a hunky surfer played with artful cluelessness and earnest charm by Jeff Berg. Trevor is given to saying “rad” and to declaring that he’s on a God-directed mission; he's going to “solve all the problems in the world. One by one.” But first he has to finish his philosophy class. The play, a loosely connected series of vignettes, examines women’s relationships with men through Trevor, a sort of universal hookup. Brunstetter writes, as Swedish playwright August Strindberg did, with a sense that the two sexes will always be in disharmony. Her women, who vary in age, size, and race, all come off as needy or resentful. But since Trevor exhibits some of the obvious male shortcomings that women have complained about through the years, this is to be expected. He’s no good at commitment or remembering birthdays, and he often behaves like an irresponsible child, although he is a gentle lover and good in bed. Unlike the fierce competitors in a Strindberg play, both sides here start out enervated. Sexual satisfaction is possible, but there’s little emotional connection.

As Trevor’s liaisons are examined on April Bartlett’s simple set of a low central platform for indoor scenes and a green stage carpet for outdoors, the play straddles realism and absurdism. It veers from touching to wildly implausible, and from drama to comedy, with most of the humor at the man’s expense. (It’s unclear whether this schizoid aspect is the result of having co-directors, Isaac Byrne and Diana Basmajian.)

Brunstetter’s first scene, though, is contrived and off-putting. Anna, a child of 11, sings to herself a song with the line, “Gonna shed your placenta.” Anna is that old theatrical cliché, a child knowledgeable beyond her years, and she has gleaned information about her mother’s sex life that includes fellatio and periods. (Anna’s information supposedly comes through eavesdropping, although she knows more than the CIA would if mom’s bedroom had been bugged.) But when Anna yells, “I got my period! I’m on the rag!”—really, is it possible that she overheard that? Whose mother ever says that?

Rachel Dorfman exhibits patience and openness as Anna’s mother, but the character is plain creepy. She makes weird, jealous comments on her 11-year-old’s beauty and also barks instructions like “Don’t look directly at me. It burns.” It’s akin to watching Britney Spears playing mother to JonBenet Ramsey.

Brunstetter is more successful with Diane, a plump policewoman who claims to be 34 and much older than Trevor, who’s 25 (although the age difference between the actors is invisible). Diane is a decent woman but awkward, and Maggie Hamilton invests this crucial role with shy self-consciousness and a poignant vulnerability. She meets Trevor as he’s about to chalk a message on a wall; Diane acknowledges that she also used to write on walls. The implication is that Diane's wild spirit has been tamed. Diane and Trevor begin an unlikely affair, although Trevor has other women.

One of them is Joanne (Darcie Champagne), a cosmetician who meets Diane in a park and gives her a makeup lesson. And another is Georgia (Lavita Shaurice), a woman who periodically performs at a poetry slam on an open mike. Trevor has damaged both of them as well, although neither registers as strongly as Diane. Late in the play Trevor encounters an older woman, Mona, who’s both hilariously insane and truly frightening, and is played by Ellen David with the panache of Ruth Gordon. The scene also gives Berg the opportunity to show he can play fear and vulnerability and that his casting isn’t entirely based on the frequently displayed results of gym time and protein shakes.

The damage that men inflict on women is a meaty subject for drama, but Brunstetter’s approach is ultimately too loosely structured and too erratic in its tone to rate as either realism or absurdist satire.

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