By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
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Motorcycles, Doris Day tunes, and a review of Total Woman techniques should make for a madcap Ozzie-and-Harriet-style romp in Mixed Blood Theatre's production of The Gene Pool, which opens Oct. 14. A sitcom-style farce, Christy Stewart-Brown's play chronicles a boy's coming of age and the antics of his lesbian parents--a journey rife with sex, humor, and questions of paternity.
Mixed Blood veteran Marquetta Senters and Guthrie Theater regular Sally Wingert star as Claire and Mira Gray, two fortysomething lesbians who have been partnered for more than 20 years. Along the way, via the miracles of artificial insemination, they've acquired a son, Peter (played by Togba Norris). On the verge of his 18th birthday, Peter finds a new motorcycle-
riding girlfriend who sparks his interest in losing his virginity (the moms buy the condoms, of course) and discovering a dad who doesn't want to be found. Peter's parents, meanwhile, are having problems of their own: Veterinarian Claire has covered up a recent affair, and though Mira has yet to find evidence of such infidelity, she suspects something's wrong. Fearing that the spark has gone out of the relationship, Mira unsuccessfully tries seducing Claire with everything from fuzzy handcuffs to Saran Wrap clothing.
When the play debuted earlier this year at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, D.C., critics generally praised Stewart-Brown's frolic through the ups and downs of parenthood. Some reviewers, however, derided the play as Pollyanna-ish and conventional, a charge that annoys Stewart-Brown: "I started out just wanting to write two good roles for middle-aged women," she says. "I really am sick of political gay plays. The word 'lesbian' isn't even in the play. The question in this play is 'Who is my dad?'"
Jack Reuler, artistic director of Mixed Blood, agrees that gay issues aren't at the center of The Gene Pool. Furthermore, the director says, the play is a perfect fit for a company devoted to producing plays that include diverse characters without focusing solely on race, sex, or sexual orientation. "This is the most 'Mixed Blood' script I've seen in a long time," Reuler says. "This family is not dysfunctional. These women are completely fine with who they are. It's a straight-ahead play in which two of the characters happen to be gay."
For actress Wingert, whom Twin Citians know from her repeat appearances on the Guthrie stage, the play fulfills a desire to work more closely with co-star Senters. Aside from occasional shows at the Guthrie, Wingert notes, she and Senters have rarely shared the spotlight.
But do these women have what it takes to create a long-term lesbian relationship onstage? "Part of what we work on in rehearsal is getting Sally and Marquetta to have mannerisms similar to any couple that has been together 20 years," Reuler says. While locked in a sweet struggle to work out their relationship doldrums, Claire and Mira have ample chances to play off one another. While Claire has grown increasingly unhappy with her career--a vet job that seems to require an inordinate amount of cat-killing--Mira has grown tired of Claire's preoccupation with work and her waning interest in sex.
Wingert admits she was a bit miffed when Reuler offered Senters the role of Claire and cast her as Mira, the housewife who cooks, cleans, and sings along to Doris Day songs. "I think either of us could do either role," Wingert sighs, "but Marquetta out-butched me on this one."
Wingert says that the play's humor and matter-of-fact portrayal of gay relationships makes it an ideal choice for family viewing. "I think this would be a great play for gay people to take their parents to," Wingert says. "Seeing a play like this can reassure parents that life can be OK after kids come out."
The Gene Pool opens Oct. 14 at the Mixed Blood Theatre. (See Q calendar for dates and show times.)