Monday, October 5, 2015

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Penitents Behind Bars

Note: You want to root for a new company like MAIDEN PHOENIX, dedicated to finding more opportunities for female theater artists. And you really want to support their current effort, an examination of the prisons women build for themselves, aided and abetted by pop culture and the fashion industry. (Thin, white waifs with attitude stare out from glossy magazine pages in S&M poses, thanks singlehandedly to photographer Helmut Newton back in the ‘80s, but I’ll bitch about that in another article). The women in MISS PENETENTIARY are still (after all these years) desperate to be desired and desperate to be liked by everyone. Where did the feminists of the ‘60s go wrong? We thought we exploded the Cinderella myth. We thought we had the ERA in our grasp. Well, no. But we thought we raised the next generation(s) to be independent, proud and self-confidant. What happened?
We thought Roe v. Wade sealed the deal but here we are again, 100 years after Margaret Sanger founded the first birth control clinic, defending Planned Parenthood. We thought “our bodies were our own” but the Right Wing and Bill Cosby think they belong to them. What?
SO as a show of support for Planned Parenthood, MAIDEN PHOENIX is donating the proceeds from their October 8th show to PP. That’s putting your money where your play is!


Laura Neubauer’s MISS PENETENTIARY (@ BPT through Oct. 17th) is a wry look at the bars women set for themselvesand around themselveswith self-loathing, perfectionism and defeatism, not to mention those Jimmy Choo six inch heels. The play opens with a nifty chuckle. Just like the orphans in ANNIE, the inmates scrub the floor of their jail in syncopated rhythm. Each hopes to escape by scrubbing the hardest and by winning a beauty contest. Hence the play’s title.

Part theater of the absurd, part theater of revolt and part sermon, MISS PENETENTIARY has five capable actresses, under Alyce Householter’s smart direction, playing the heck out of Neubauer’s meandering script. Neubauer takes considerable pains to introduce each character, so much so that you’re not sure who the central character is for quite some time, given all the posturing.

Each inmate gets plenty of meaty dialogue and a hurdle to overcome. Often these obstacles occupy several scenes when one would suffice. Neubauer’s conceit has lots of promise but it gets bogged down in unintended contradictions: For instance, Gret (Kim Klasner) thinks she isn’t attractive (when all she needs is confidence in herself) and how does she get the confidence? By putting on make-up and styling her hair? Surely that isn’t the point Neubauer wants to make. In fact, Neubauer goes to great lengths to sabotage the idea of beauty pageants but sometimes her focus is a bit blurry.

Perhaps sending up pageants makes the play clearly a comedy (with wonderfully funny choreography by Kaitee Treadway and smashing music by Christopher Higgins) where tackling illiteracy and overcoming drug addiction make the play a serious endeavor. Can they coexist? Perhaps but I couldn’t see it gel. It’s not easy to make a script work the first (or last) time out. The Maiden Phoenix people are taking a big risk with a new play. And we need new plays by women! Neubauer is extremely fortunate to have Klasner, Dayenne Walters, Elissa Palma, Caitlin Gjerdrum and Holly Cinnamon to strut her stuff.