Theatre Wyrzuc

at Too Far West Coffeehouse

Abortion and violence against women remain volatile issues in our communities. There’s a wall near the Lincoln Park Library that points this up. Pasted on one end is a photo of Thelma and Louise, one of them brandishing a pistol, with the caption, “There is no justice for women as long as men make the laws.” On the other end is this bit of graffiti: “Abortion abuses the woman and her child.” Slumber Party in a Dangerous Land and A Few Simple Truths reflect these currents almost exactly. Slumber Party shoots from the hip and aims for revenge; Simple Truths studies an issue that’s been talked about so long it’s become an ideological battle, removed from the people who have to make the decisions.

Theatre Wyrzuc’s Slumber Party in a Dangerous Land, performed at the Too Far West Coffeehouse, is a howling rage. It takes the issue of rape and violence against women and smashes it over our heads. By the end of the evening we know the victims’ acute pain, mixed with an occasional desire for “a proper, perfect revenge.” It’s not a comfortable feeling: Slumber Party is a raw, disturbing play that lingers in our psyche for a long time.

This is Theatre Wyrzuc’s second production, mounted (I assume) with little or no money. It feels like a play from a young company. Costumes consist of baby blue T-shirts with iron-on black letters saying “The Medusa Complex,” and the set of two chairs could have been culled from any alley Dumpster. But any lack of experience or “professionalism” in this play is made up for by emotion that shoots through it like lightning.

Brian Kirst’s script is difficult to pull off, composed entirely of poems and having little back-and-forth dialogue. The premise is even a bit weak: a group of actresses in B-grade horror/sex movies decide they’ve had enough of being exploited and create a rebellious but successful touring variety show. Conflict arises when they perform in the backward town where one of the women grew up. The men there, thinking they’re going to see a girlie show, are angered when it turns out to be a political revue about sexual discrimination and abuse. They riot during the performance, and afterward they vent their anger on the women by raping them. The women then take their revenge.

The tight ensemble (Jessica Levy, Tom Rakness, Michele Zanko, Marian Carol, Kelly Jones, Klahr Thorsen, and Andrea Stark the night I saw it) carry this off with such chilling conviction it seems they’ve all lived through it before. Actually, in his program notes, Kirst reveals he has lived through this. Slumber Party seems like Kirst’s own symbolic revenge against his father’s brutal beating of his mother; his poetry rings with a truthful immediacy.


Organic Theater Company Greenhouse

Passion and immediacy are somewhat lacking in A Few Simple Truths, which in its effort to be objective ends up slightly dry, like polite dinner conversation. From their initial interviews with women and men who’ve had varying experiences with abortion, Anne McGravie and cast took two years to mold the production (subtitled “A Contemplation With Music”) that opened Sunday night at the Organic Greenhouse. The result is, as the title indicates, a contemplative play with pleasant but not very provocative musical interludes.

The dialogue McGravie has written is natural, and the series of vignettes she chooses strike a balance between those who are prolife, prochoice, and in between. We hear tales of an illegal abortion performed without anesthesia by a drunk man who ties the woman’s wrists and ankles to the table with a rope, a college student who painlessly has a legal abortion after getting pregnant on vacation in the Virgin Islands, a prolife activist arrested at a demonstration, a young man whose pregnant girlfriend excludes him from her decision to abort their child, a high school girl who keeps her child.

All of the stories are true, but they seem removed from their source, lacking the jittery passions that accompany such decisions. Unlike Slumber Party in a Dangerous Land, A Few Simple Truths doesn’t force you to confront its issues from any particular angle.

In a way, A Few Simple Truths is too safe to ever be an excellent show. McGravie had the luxuries of a talented professional cast and ample time and money. But after two years of rehearsals, the kinks have been ironed out so much that the show has lost its texture. It takes no risks, so it can neither soar nor flop.