Dark Red, Zebra Crossing Theatre.

I’ll never understand how “feminism” has become a dirty word. Feminist thinkers have an uncanny knack for articulating, often with great playfulness and wit, the obvious truths that lie beneath the dominant culture. At the heady fourth annual Northwestern University Law School Feminist Symposium, the director of DePaul’s Center for African American Research, Barbara Ransby–citing the Republican demand that welfare mothers be abstinent, married, or both to receive aid–quipped, “Poor women are held to a higher moral standard than our male elected officials.”

Such irreverence and acumen might have transformed Amy Ludwig’s 30-minute sketch, Dark Red, into a viable piece of theater. Ludwig has gathered feminist writings (Adrienne Rich, Luce Irigaray, Paula Trei-chler), not-so-feminist writings (Sigmund Freud, John Gray, Plato), and the performers’ personal stories for different views on motherhood, femininity, and violence. But aside from an intriguing section in which the four cast members chat candidly about their views on childbearing, the result is a frustratingly cool and occasionally melodramatic pastiche. Too often Ludwig directs her cast to milk their emotions, whether waiting on an examining table for an abortion or imagining themselves as Medea killing her children. None of the actors finds more than a perfunctory connection to such torturous moments, so much of the evening seems flat.

A profound truth lurks behind Ludwig’s piece–that in a patriarchal culture that seeks to control motherhood, mothers are in an inherently dangerous position. But by briefly sampling so many voices, she never brings that truth into focus.