Renegade Theatre Company

at Footsteps Theatre

Julie has had a bad day. She’s just lost her tenth dead-end job in eight years, and it’s Friday night and she doesn’t have a date. Her plan is to trash her troubles at home, assisted by a few dozen beers, a fifth of Jack Daniels, and some loud music. When a neighbor complains about the noise she calls him a childishly obscene name and flashes him from the window. Her mousy roommate, Alice, is also piqued tonight–her married lover has decided to return to his wife, and Alice is now bent on regaining the weight she lost for his sake. As these two continue to throw their respective tantrums, pausing only to insist that the other cease her self-destructive plan immediately, Julie hits upon an appropriate way of venting their anger: they’ll lure an unsuspecting male to their apartment and rape him. “We need somebody attractive–but vulnerable,” she schemes. “Someone we can take advantage of.” When Eddie, the innocent delivery man, arrives with Alice’s pizza, Julie sights her target.

If this premise has not yet made you feel vaguely sick, imagine the same scenario with the sexes reversed. Or imagine it with two large, strong, aggressive women and an underweight 19-year-old boy. Keep in mind that two women armed with even such mundane weapons as kitchen knives could easily coerce one large man. Recall as well that penetration with inanimate objects–broom handles, for example, or the dildo that Alice waves around early in the play–and nonpenetrative sexual acts performed under coercion also constitute rape.

None of this seems to have occurred to playwright Darlene Craviotto, however. Nor does Pizza Man offer any clue as to how these two very different women met or why they decided to live together and continue to live together in sadomasochistic codependency. In the first 20 minutes of the play director Mark Liermann has them hurling objects around the room, smashing things, and wrestling one another over the kitchen counter. So when Julie slaps Alice in the last 20 minutes and is aghast at her own violence, we wonder why. After all, Julie is a chronic boozer and Alice is precisely the type of clinging whiner who would arouse a mean drunk’s bullying impulses.

Likewise, it’s only after many hours of trying to induce the somehow requisite hard-on and acceptable level of terror in their victim that Julie, who has projected homicidal fury throughout, actually threatens him with bodily harm–and is immediately stricken with horrified remorse. Perhaps Craviotto is hoping that by emphasizing the women’s naivete and impotence she can convince us that they’re not hostile psychopaths but ordinary all-American girls pushed just a wee bit too far. But their ineptitude and contradictions in no way excuse the ugliness of their proposed action.

Since Pizza Man was written in 1982, the characters spend most of the second act spilling their souls, encounter-group style. We learn about Eddie’s dream of becoming a priest, deferred when he must marry his pregnant girlfriend, and about the only time he ever cried (Eddie is supposed to be an Army veteran, but he opens up like a daisy under questioning). We learn about Julie’s marriage, aborted after three months when she discovered her husband in bed with another man–“But he didn’t drop you for another woman!” Alice points out brightly. “And he was a doctor,” she says, “you could have been rich!” Upon learning that the errant spouse dropped out of med school to become a nurse, she shrieks, “That’s disgusting!” We learn very little about what makes Alice tick, her contributions to the therapy consisting mostly of imbecilities intended as comic relief. (When Eddie demands, “Are you two feminists or something?” Alice’s indignant response is “Certainly not! We’re heterosexual.”) After Eddie–who’s grown suddenly wise, perceptive, and articulate under stress–has brought the confused women to the realization that “Everybody has problems, and you’ve got to accept them and get on with your life” and everyone has had a good cry, their male savior departs with nary a mention of criminal charges.

The director’s notes to this Renegade Theatre production claim that “With Pizza Man we explore some of the modern day problems facing young men and women today.” But however benign the playwright’s intentions or astonishing the decision to produce this play in 1992, however cutely it’s all presented or harmlessly concluded, rape is still an abomination. Pizza Man’s appalling treatment of it as comic fantasy should prove palatable only to misanthropes seeking affirmation of their views.