at Cafe Voltaire

Go to Cafe Voltaire and you might see something wondrous, like Under Milk Wood. When the programming’s good, it’s very good. But sometimes when it’s bad, it’s really bad.

The current offering–Maniacal Normality, a one-act by Lara Heady, Mandy Spurier, and Tiffany Reid–is the kind of script most theater managers wouldn’t even bother to do in a workshop. They’d nod at the playwrights, tell them to work on it some more, and hope they never came back.

That the script is being produced seems to have more to do with Voltaire’s populist politics than its artistic sense. It tends to program the unusual, the odd, the rough. That Maniacal Normality was written and put together by a group of young, relatively inexperienced women, that it has a lesbian theme, and that it aims for a certain kind of hipness probably appealed to Voltaire’s programmers. Or maybe they simply didn’t have anything else to program. But no one who reads or sees this show could possibly think it’s ready for a production of any kind–even the raw productions, whether vital or disastrous, that are Voltaire’s signature.

Not only is the script iffy, but the acting–with the exception of Melanie Miller’s–is so amateurish it’s painful to watch. Heady, who plays the lead, Melissa, mostly smirks. Michelle North, playing Cybil, has a tentative hold on her lines and little sense of timing. Sonia McWilliams adequately takes on Max, the anthropomorphic cat, but this role is imposed on the show rather than integrated, so it’s hard to tell what she’s supposed to do with it.

The piece introduces us to Melissa, a young lesbian who wants to have a unique name. We learn that she tried on Ariel but settled on the hardly unique but infinitely less femmy Kate. Kate, who wears B.V.D.s and lacy black bras, is being coerced into therapy by her mother in exchange for rent money. Why Kate is dependent on her mother is beyond us–no one offers a clue as to why the gal doesn’t have a job.

This therapy, we find out, is designed to get Kate to feel more comfortable with heterosexuality. Her mother thinks boy and girl–God’s way–is the way to go, and that’s that. Even though Kate’s resistant, and apparently quite comfortably queer, she agrees to the therapy; in other words, on some level she agrees to give this concept a try. Amazingly, the playwrights never deal with this rather huge moral conflict.

Even more compromising is the transparent plot twist in which Kate’s therapist, Cybil, follows her one night, confesses how enthralled she is by Kate’s life-style and orientation, and asks to be taken home. (“I want to grab life by the tits,” she says. Honest.) Kate, without batting an eye, complies.

Though we see this coming, there’s no motivation for the characters’ behavior. Nothing suggested that Kate was attracted to Cybil. And while Cybil seems titillated by lesbianism as a concept, nothing in particular seems to have drawn her to Kate other than her availability–which is kind of pathetic.

More disturbing is the dismissal of the consequences of these characters’ actions. Kate’s hardly honest–when her mother calls the next morning while she’s wrapped up with Cybil, she fudges the truth. And Cybil, who’s married with children, seems to have spent the night away from home without the slightest consideration of the effect her actions might have on the other people in her life. If there’s any change in these selfish, shallow characters, it’s the coming out of Cybil, which is obvious and ho-hum at best. Moreover, the play’s supposed to be about Kate.

Playing somewhere to the side of all this nonsense is Miller, whose L Track Sally is a convincing street woman with a few loose screws. But what she has to do with the rest of the story is a mystery.