We’re kicking off Giving Tuesday early this year! Your donation today will be matched up to $10K, doubling your impact! If you donate $50 today, the Reader will receive $100.

The Reader is now a community-funded nonprofit newsroom. Can we count on your support to help keep us publishing?


Igloo, the Theatrical Group

Before the opening-night performance of Orgasmo Adulto Escapes From the Zoo at the Igloo theater, a young woman strolled in from the lobby carrying her newborn baby. Calm, radiant, obviously ecstatic about the child, this new mother was the picture of maternal bliss. As a thoroughly modern madonna at peace with her own maternity, she served as a powerful counterpoint to the fossilized feminist diatribe that followed.

Orgasmo was written in the mid-1970s, when feminism was getting into high gear. Created by the Italian husband-wife team of Dario Fo and Franca Rame, the play originally consisted of eight sketches about oppressed women, all portrayed by Rame. Then in 1983, Estelle Parsons adapted the pieces and performed them herself under the direction of Rame. For the Igloo production, Christopher Peditto has eliminated the most heavy-handed sketches and directed the rest with the emphasis on their black humor and bizarre images.

Despite the energy and ingenuity Peditto has brought to the staging, Orgasmo still seems hopelessly out-of-date. Men are accused of being selfish beasts insensitive to the needs of women, and the women are portrayed as hapless victims of this oppression. Sex is violence, marriage is slavery, love is a four-letter word.

Granted, there are still plenty of sexist dinosaurs around who qualify as valid targets for such an assault. But when it comes to women’s rights, the level of debate has risen enormously in the past 15 years, making the weapons used by the authors of Orgasmo needlessly crude. Feminism has awakened a lot of people to the injustice of sexism, just as the civil rights movement sensitized the nation to the evils of racial prejudice. Prejudice is still rampant, but a play denouncing segregated schools would be an anachronism–the debate has moved far beyond that point.

In the same way, Orgasmo seems out of touch with the current state of affairs, which is better represented by that young mother who wandered in before the show. As the beneficiary of battles fought during the last two decades, she has more freedom to approach motherhood on her own terms. She may still confront plenty of frustrations–the war is far from over–but the days of heavy artillery fire are past. It’s time for infiltration and guerrilla tactics, but Orgasmo is still into blanket bombing. That’s why Igloo’s decision to stage this play is puzzling. The sketches are just so much hysterical ranting, with all the persuasive power of a street-corner preacher.

The play begins with two men, each wearing nothing but a cardboard fig leaf over his crotch, parading out as “love slaves” to the “Queen of Love,” played as a hot torch singer by Gina Vera McLaughlin. She observes that the names for male genitalia connote power, while their female counterparts sound just plain silly: “I broke my leg slipping on a vagina peel.”

“The Same Story” is a monologue expertly delivered by Val Olney, who launches into a bizarre story about a foulmouthed rag doll, a dwarf who sprinkles lethal “phosphorescent pee-pee” on his enemies, and a wolf who is actually a computer programmer. Whatever it means, Olney generates the dreamlike atmosphere of a hallucination, endowing the story with a sense of urgency and suspense that belies the whimsical content.

Mary-Beth Kelleher anchors the show as “A Woman Alone,” the longest and most complex monologue. Dressed in puppy-dog slippers and a housecoat, she stands at her ironing board, shouting at a neighbor woman sitting in a nearby window. As she shouts, she reveals the hopelessness of her situation–she is locked in the apartment with her brother-in-law who, though totally encased in a plaster cast, still manages to grab her with his free hand. Her husband is a terrible lover who demands sex at his convenience. “Always ready, I have to be like Nescafe,” she says. She recently ended an affair with her young French tutor because her husband caught them flagrante delicto, which is why he now locks her up when he’s away at work. While languishing in the apartment, which is filled with all the latest appliances, she fields obscene phone calls and yells at the Peeping Tom across the courtyard who keeps his binoculars trained on her window all day. The scene ends with an orgy of feminist rage that is as preposterous as it is predictable.

“Dialogue for a Single Voice,” performed by Olney, features a rather batty young woman who insists on rhapsodizing in absurdly purple prose about her sexual encounter with a silent gorilla of a man. “The shortage is over, little mouse,” she tells him as he mounts her. “Satisfy your hunger, but don’t gorge yourself.”

“Medea,” performed by Kelleher, is a brief Italian folk version of Euripides’ play about a woman who kills her children in revenge for her husband’s deserting her for a younger woman.

Dario Fo is a master of frenzied, outrageous political satire. He is a clown who delights in mocking the power structure in the most outlandish terms he can imagine. Perhaps that is his contribution to Orgasmo. I certainly found no trace of a masculine viewpoint anywhere in these sketches, and from the descriptions I’ve read there’s little sympathy for men in the sketches cut from this production. (They include a bit about a working woman rushing to get the baby to the day-care center while her husband sleeps, and another in which a female prisoner is tortured by her male guards.)

Peditto and the cast have done their best to bring out the clownish elements of this play, and their emphasis on the bizarre injects plenty of fizz. But Orgasmo remains a bitter blend of righteous indignation and hackneyed political views. It’s like a full-scale revival of guerrilla street theater denouncing American involvement in Vietnam–interesting, perhaps, as a historical curiosity, but very old news.