This past week, as part of a summer program of one-acts, the Bedlam Theater opened Monique the Mosquito Takes First Runner-Up. Opening night saw a small audience turnout--perhaps Twin Cities theatergoers are still exhausted from the Fringe Festival, reportedly the best-attended ever. But Bedlam's production, even if it plays to only a half-dozen audience members, is significant. Not only is it live theater in a week that offers very little live theater, but it is a play penned by locally based playwright Lisa D'Amour. Were it not for local playwrights such as D'Amour, Carson Krietzer, and Kira Obolensky, there would be precious few theatrical productions in the Twin Cities penned by women. Let's take the Guthrie Theater as an example. In the past half-decade, they have featured only one play by a woman on their main stage: Rita Dove's The Darker Face of the Earth. The Guthrie is a particularly egregious example of this trend, but Twin Cities theaters have consistently failed to come anywhere near gender parity.
So thank goodness for D'Amour, who has had three of her plays produced locally in the past year and a half (including Red Eye's production of Red Death and Ten Thousand Things' Anna Bella Eema). D'Amour's plays are vital, not simply because she almost single-handedly helps swing local theater back toward a sexual equilibrium, but also because her scripts are witty and fantastical parables that often seem like some late-night fairy tale designed with the sole purpose of terrifying children.
Monique tells of a mosquito beauty pageant in a fashion that was described as "a living, breathing, tiny diorama" when part of it debuted at the Red Eye in 1997. It's a mess of a script, but often a great, intelligent mess--a series of comic potshots at pageants, suffused with a sardonic, poetic fervor. D'Amour warned Bedlam director Sarah Garner that Monique is a tricky script, and so it is. The script, according to one Portland, Oregon reviewer, contains this stage direction: "Monique, out for exercise, sees several mosquitoes drunk on Yellow Fever. She watches them infect half an orphanage." Garner has elected not to dramatize this. (Or perhaps she has just done it very subtly: In the background of one scene, several insect puppets peer around from backstage, buzzing madly).
But Garner has done a fine job of staging D'Amour's sharpest metaphor: The mosquitoes, groomed from birth to be pageant contestants, must not drink blood. They protect their needle-sharp proboscises even as a growling Daddy Long Legs (Steve Anderson, doubled over into a menacing scuttle by stilts on his hands and legs) tempts them with clotted mush from a slaughterhouse. Here we see a comment on both starvation and chastity. And so D'Amour's young mosquitoes (played here by a wide-eyed Connie Ross and a posturing Paula Hood) traipse around a Bedlam space cluttered with tropical plants, their wings fluttering as they privately lust after disease-bloated farmyard animals.
Monique, in particular, is a feckless naif, blandly exuberant at the prospect of winning a pageant. As played by Ross, she is a mixture of dorky mannerisms and unrefined gestures. During a beauty contest, a white leisure suit-clad insect stalks the stage, belching out tuneless lounge songs while explaining the pageant rules to a camera. When the insect gets around to discussing the contestants' various privations, the cameraman cuts to Ross, kneeling on the floor and lapping up a thin, lumpy gruel, which, we are told, is mostly algae. Ross looks up into the camera, her cardboard proboscis still sunk into the goo, and offers a weak smile. The title of the play itself reveals Monique's reward, and it seems too paltry for this sort of humiliation.