Back in the 1960s, lounge singer Jack Jones was all over the airwaves, crooning "Wives and Lovers," which contained an ominous admonition to all stay-at-home married ladies: "Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you/I'm warning you . . ." Heck, we've advanced far beyond those Neanderthal times, haven't we? Well, maybe. But as we speak, Hollywood is filming a new adaptation of The Stepford Wives for a very market-savvy reason: Gender power games are always in play, and women are still most often the losers.
Which explains why Red Hen Productions has been out there for years, a proud feminist group creating theater by and about women. Their current effort, now on the patio at Café Limbo, is Crazy Ladies, a collection of 10 short pieces, written by Dori Appel and Carolyn Myers, which address a litany of issues ranging from the horrible (mental disintegration) to the humorously hormonal (a tribute to menopause). It's performed as a staged reading, which, for the uninitiated, is the inverse of watching a movie with subtitles -- instead of the audience reading the words, the actors read from scripts while simultaneously acting their parts.
The most successful vignette in this collection perceptively explores how women are socialized to always say "I'm sorry" in the face of upset or conflict. This is seen through the eyes of a woman (played with rueful pain by Tricia Bestic) who ends up in the funny farm after snapping at home and cutting off the cords to all the electrical appliances. According to her, "Being crazy is the best and final expression of what we've been trained to do all our lives." Even when she is confined to a room furnished only with a mattress -- and required to stay there until she can remember how to be a lady -- she scrawls "I'm sorry" on the walls with her feces. This image of externally imposed control on women fuels the wit and insight of all the pieces in Crazy Ladies.
Almost inevitably, there are bits in which the playwrights allow self-absorption to overwhelm the dramatic flow, particularly in a monologue from yet another mental patient (subtly rendered by Lucia DiVieste), who has been zeroed out on Lithium. Also, the readings by the other two actors suffer in comparison to those of the performers mentioned above, with Jazmin Corona being over-torqued in her interpretations of a homeless woman and a middle-aged student, and Angelique Bankston unable to break out of sing-songy intonations.
Still, director Cat Kenney has crafted an enjoyable evening that will appeal to virtually all women and most reasonable men. And if you don't laugh out loud at the post-menopausal ovaries that are sipping their last estrogen cocktail and checking out the bedroom action of their host female by using a periscope to peek out through her navel, you just aren't conscious -- regardless of your chromosomal profile. Finally, this play asks, does a woman have to be a "crazy lady" to survive in this society? Perhaps not, but it sure couldn't hurt.