at the Theatre Shoppe

In his current show Do the White Thing, Aaron Freeman declares “Everything that happens in your life ends up in the act.” But an entire evening of autobiographical material is a risky proposition. First-person narrative is by its nature mundane–everybody has a life story. This is not to say that such material can’t be interesting: the narrator’s experiences may include dramatic or uncommon events–political upheaval, natural disasters, social or domestic crises. Or the narrator’s account may reflect a singular point of view, or the first person may be a device for subjectivizing some external issue. Mary Faktor’s The Six Ages of Woman meets none of these criteria, but it’s an enjoyable evening nonetheless.

The play, written and performed by Faktor, is made up of six telephone monologues: Vicki’s side of conversations with her best friend Madge over a period of many years. It opens with 15-year-old Vicki announcing that her heartthrob, Alan Ziwicki, has finally asked her for a date. That this Romeo’s idea of a big evening consists of bowling and White Castle makes him no less a Prince Charming–“Polish men are so sexy,” says Vicki. “When God made Alan, that’s when He knew He was God!”

In the second monologue, our heroine has become Mrs. Vicki Ziwicki, reveling in her Mediterranean furniture, her baby-doll nighties, and the freedom to fornicate, even if her spouse does strip only to his socks and refuses to make love until Championship Bowling goes off the air. Vicki at this point has a “master plan”: no children for at least three years, keeping her job until a house has been bought and paid for, and producing two carefully timed offspring, one of each gender. “We’re going to use rhythm. Father Bob swore to me it would work. . . . He’s a priest, so he should know.”

Thirteen months later, Vicki is pregnant–two weeks overdue, in fact–but loving every minute of it: “My hair is all shiny, my cheeks are all rosy, and Alan calls me his little bowling ball.” She anticipates a perfect motherhood of kindness, patience, understanding, and baking cookies. Ten years and three children later, Vicki’s fourth is also weeks overdue. “If you mention ‘master plan’ again, I’ll hang you right up there next to Father Bob!” she snarls at Madge, who enjoys a life of international travel and single bliss. Alan has changed into a couch pumpkin, and the pleasures of domestic sensuality have palled: “I had a sex dream last night. It starred the Empire Carpet man . . . I must be getting desperate.” All is not over for Vicki, however: her husband has reluctantly agreed to allow her a part-time job at the factory where he works, “a little clerk job or something that doesn’t require a lot of brainpower.”

By age number five, Vicki has risen to assistant production manager, which makes her Alan’s boss–but he doesn’t mind. She travels on business almost as much as Madge does, and even has a brief affair.

In the sixth monologue, Vicki is 62 and preparing to become a grandmother (Father Bob has sabotaged another generation’s “master plan” too). Her untidy eldest son now owns a housecleaning service, her eldest daughter, who played doctor in kindergarten, is now an MD specializing in sexual dysfunction, and Alan’s doctor has ordered him to give up bowling. Life is no more romantic or extraordinary than it’s ever been–but Vicki has joined a “rowdy and horny” senior citizens’ club, exercises daily with a walking team, and is still full of optimistic plans: “I’m going to be the perfect grandmother–I’m going to bake cookies . . .”

Mary Faktor is not some smart-assed SNL comedienne mean-mouthing those other broads from the safety of an “I’m hip and you’re not” stance, nor does she resemble Lily Tomlin’s oh-so-warm-and-witty bag lady (even a talent of Tomlin’s caliber can fall prey to the Marie Antoinette syndrome, playing at milkmaids with porcelain pails). What makes this inarguably ordinary material work is that Faktor, though she exaggerates slightly, is telling her own story. She makes that clear in the curtain speech that prefaces her show: “I met my husband at 14, went steady for five years, and married at 19. I had two kids by the time I was 22. Since I got such an early start, I hit mid-life crisis at around 30 and . . . decided to become an actress.” Her insider’s view is apparent throughout The Six Ages of Woman–a point of view that’s certainly subjective yet refreshingly free of finger pointing.

Faktor’s tale also succeeds as well as it does because it retains its good humor from beginning to end–unlike the works of early feminists, who elevated the kaffeeklatsch game of “Ain’t It Awful?” to the level of epic tragedy. At no time does Faktor permit Vicki to whine about her lot in life–she complains, of course, kvetches and gripes and bellyaches as we all do, but she never indicates regret at the choices she’s made and never doubts her ability to change the course of her life. This is most apparent when Vicki talks about her affair with a man she met on an out-of-town business trip: “The more I saw of him, the more I realized how much I really loved Alan. . . . He loves the real me, not the me with the party manners I let this other guy see, but the me with the hair curlers and the bunny slippers.” How many plays were there in the last season in which imperfect husbands and wives actually liked one another?

The Six Ages of Woman is not perfect–Faktor sometimes resorts to all-purpose gags based on stories from the National Enquirer or variations on the old wheeze about the female shopper who asks the male butcher about the quality of his poultry. And Vicki’s remark about the considerate gynecologist who “warms up the stirrups with a blow-dryer” for his patients will probably be lost on male audience members. But Faktor’s warmth and conviction give even these the ring of plausibility.

Most of the show is made up of humor that’s at once original and familiar. We can all recognize ourselves in Vicki’s adolescent incredulity at her grandparents’ getaway weekend at a downtown hotel: “What a waste! Everybody knows you can’t do it when you’re over 40!” Or in her newlywed declaration that she loves doing housework–“It’s not like work when it’s your own place”–and her remark later that “If it doesn’t stick to the floor, we don’t wash it.” Again, Faktor’s boundless personal charm works against any ridicule Vicki’s naivete may inspire. And she’s no more foolish than we were at one time, whether we want to admit it or not.

The Six Ages of Woman may not succeed in the way that most autobiographies do. But Faktor creates an icon so engaging in her very ordinariness that we’re pleased to listen to her schmooze (the secret to Shirley Valentine, too). My own story probably more closely approximates Madge’s than Vicki’s, but it’s reassuring to hear that the alternative might not have been so bad, either.