Staged Sex

The Cromulent Shakespeare Co. and cheap lingerie; Family Crisis at the Pillsbury House.

There is a certain nerdy charm to the Cromulent Shakespeare Company, whose name and motto ("Enbiggen the Bard") were inspired by dialogue in an episode of The Simpsons. Their updating of Aristophanes' Lysistrata, which they have redubbed The Lysistrata Lesson, also takes great pains to be witty, but--despite an endless number of sexually tinged double- and triple-entendres--the humor is awkward and entirely at the expense of the production..

In this tale of Greek women who withhold sex from their warring husbands and lovers to hasten a declaration of peace, director Bucky Fay, who authored the adaptation, has dressed his female cast in a series of costumes that, I believe, are meant to represent an adolescent boy's sexual fantasies: one woman wears a Wonder Woman costume; another is decked out like Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie; and a third wears a lacy French maid's costume. These flimsy outfits look as though they were made out of thin plastic, needlessly confine the female cast members, and could be sexy only to adults who have a fetish for children's Halloween costumes. Seeing these costumes, one Greek man (Michael Postle) clutches at his groin and cries out: "If I don't go Pompeii in my pants, it'll be a miracle!" It is sexuality by way of the Comic Book Man from The Simpsons, and nerdily charming--but funny only by accident.

'Mr. Bundy' is best when things are left unsaid
Michal Daniel
'Mr. Bundy' is best when things are left unsaid

The whole of this geeky fable is wrapped in a feeble satire, in which three smug corporate trainers (played by Robin Frahm, Leigha Horton, and David Schlosser) repeatedly appear to berate an imagined audience of businesspeople for their lack of political correctness in the arena of sexual relations. The trio is genuinely comical, at nobody's expense, but the target of their satire is dated. Political correctness? The Cromulent Shakespeare Company is not simply beating a dead horse here; the subject of political correctness is so bewilderingly retro that taking potshots at it is akin to beating a Trojan horse.

 

Meanwhile, Mr. Bundy, currently playing at the Pillsbury House Theatre, covers contemporary subject matter that should be timeless. Unfortunately, the work is both creaky and badly constructed. Playwright Jane Martin sets scenes together awkwardly and intercuts them with monologues that actors deliver directly to the audience. Playwrights often seem inordinately pleased with this device, as it provides glimpses directly into a character's psyche. But it has always struck me as needless; particularly in this play, which details the slow dissolution of a family when they discover that their next door neighbor is a convicted child molester. The married couple, played by Brian Goranson and Noël Raymond, are so precise and cautious about articulating their conflicted emotions to each other that it feels redundant to have them turn directly to the audience and bring up the subject anew.

But if playwright Martin's sense of structure is faulty, she could not be more precise in the construction of the near-geometric, downward arc of a family in crisis. Goranson, in particular, moves from a benign gruffness to an impotent rage with terrifying logic. As his liberal-minded wife struggles to make decent gestures toward their molester neighbor, the titular Mr. Bundy (played with craggy helplessness by Clyde Lund), Goranson cajoles, wheedles, and finally commands, in that order, that she respect his feelings in the matter--even as he moves toward murderousness. Astonishingly, the debate raging at the heart of the play--what is to be done with Mr. Bundy?--seems secondary to Martin's portrait of a family in crisis. We sense that the breakdown that Goranson exhibits could be precipitated by virtually anything. It need not be the spectacular discovery that the man who tends your daughter has a history of dressing children in his mother's clothing and then pawing at them.

It's been a busy month for Goranson, by the way; besides his performance in Mr. Bundy, he directed Lloyd's Prayer at the Illusion Theater, which sometimes meant working from sunup to well into the night. I can't say with any certainty that the ensuing exhaustion informed Goranson's acting choices in Mr. Bundy, but he carries onto the stage with him a weary intemperance, as though he were really too exhausted to put up with any of this. This intemperance is directed at everybody, by the way--his daughter, his wife, and the near-evangelical team of white-trash vigilantes (played with manic zeal by Fred Wagner and Heidi Hunter Batz) that come to warn him of Mr. Bundy's presence. In fact, up until the play's chilling climax, the only person to whom Goranson is genial is Mr. Bundy himself. It's a forced geniality, to be sure, consisting of polite words forced through gritted teeth. But it is unerringly right. We don't see characters bite their tongues and swallow their words often enough on the stage--instead they tend to turn toward the audience and spill out their troubled emotions. But I prefer to puzzle over what was left unsaid, and Martin's play is at its strongest when it lets puzzles remain unsolved.

 
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