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Bailiwick Repertory

Jessica is obsessed with sex, or claims to be so that she can titillate and thus control those around her. Her psychiatrist, after two weeks of watching this nymphet fondle herself while recounting adventures rivaling Fanny Hill’s, eventually succumbs to temptation and beds down the all-too-willing patient. This hands-on approach to therapy does not sit well with the psychiatrist’s already-jealous girlfriend, Elaine, who turns for comfort and protection to the attractive auto mechanic who lusts after her. As it turns out, however, the car doctor is not ready for the kind of permanent relationship Elaine has in mind. Nor is the head doctor willing to become a slave to Jessica’s neurotic pussy power, and suspends practice to do a little self-counseling.

Women. Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. Elaine and Jessica both say that all they want is someone who “appreciates” them, but what they really want is someone they can dominate. Elaine hopes to land her blue-collar prey with her wifely skills and demure virginal air. Jessica hopes to get what she wants through an ever-wet readiness and a running monologue that makes phone sex sound like Dial-a-Prayer.

A blatantly male-chauvinist story, right out of Playboy? Yes, but with a twist–the psychiatrist is Ruth, the mechanic is Amy. And what is remarkable is how little the fact that all four characters are women changes the dynamics of the play. The universe depicted in Hilary Sloin’s Lust and Pity, being shown as part of Bailiwick Repertory’s Pride Performance Series, is right out of a 50s sex comedy. Jessica is the empty-headed bimbo; Elaine, the shrewish husband hunter; Amy, the good-hearted dummy; and Ruth, the naive but sincere bachelor pressured by the demands of a selfish society.

After Elaine walks out on Ruth (whose only crime was to answer an emergency phone call in the midst of their lovemaking), she promptly goes home to bake dozens of cookies. (“Why do you have your hand on my knee?” she gasps at Amy, who shrugs, “Sorry–it’s the first time I’ve been invited to someone’s apartment at 3 AM to eat cookies.”) When Ruth does not immediately beg for forgiveness, Elaine spends a few days in an alcohol-fueled snit, alternating between fantasies of self-abasement (“What do I have to do to please you? Do I need a new face?”) and revenge (“This is what I want to do to you!” she cackles to Ruth’s answering machine, crumpling a Styrofoam cup by the phone receiver). When Amy offers to kill Ruth, Elaine beams “Would you do that for me?” and prepares to welcome her white knight’s return with a home-cooked dinner, wine, candlelight, and the surrender of her magically restored virginity.

Jessica, meanwhile, is given to bogus suicide attempts whenever her open-24-hours-a-day legs fail to get her the attention she demands. And though Ruth is clearly intended to be the most mature and sympathetic of the lot, she is really no less childish: when the tough-talking Amy shows up at her office, instead of threatening to call the police–as she certainly would have if her intimidator had been male–Ruth cringes in the corner daintily. In one particularly silly scene, Ruth and Elaine discover Jessica unconscious (she’s attempted to suffocate herself with a plastic bag) and Ruth finds that she cannot bring herself to give Jessica mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while Elaine is watching. So Elaine administers the first aid, whereupon Jessica revives with the onset of–what else?–an orgasm. Never at any time do we believe that any of the characters are in any real danger–nor would we care if they were, since we have long since ceased to think of them as human beings.

Director Shifra Werch deals with the soapy action and shallow characters by playing the entire story as flat-out farce. Jennifer Sweeney brings as much dignity as she can to the role of Ruth, and Elizabeth Acerra rescues the proletarian Amy with a sly, understated comic timing. There is little that Lindsay Porter as Jessica and Sheila A. Myrcik as Elaine can do with the ball-busters they’re required to portray–except pull out all the stops, which they do with the unflinching abandon of Jell-O wrestlers. Lust and Pity also contains a goodly amount of nudity and simulated sex to augment the spectacle.

So lesbians can behave just as immaturely and irrationally as anyone else. This is news? If Lust and Pity had been written by a heterosexual male, it probably would have been dismissed as sexist, homophobic, and misogynistic–but since its authorship and psychobabble decorations (“denial,” “transference,” etc) ensure correctness, we can all kick back and enjoy the show for the funny, bawdy cartoon it is.