Women Behind Bars, Trap Door Theatre.

Tom Eyen’s 1974 off-off-Broadway play pays witty, campy homage to the women in grade-B prison movies: it’s packed with in-jokes and sly references to films like Women’s Prison and I Want to Live! But in the fumbling hands of the folks at Trap Door Theatre, Eyen’s satire is indistinguishable from the thing satirized. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say this is a distorted version of women’s prison movies, since Eyen heightens the absurdities of the genre: predictable plot twists, shallow stock characters like the cruel lesbian, the drugged psychotic, and the heavily accented Puerto Rican, and almost constant resorts to sex and violence to energize the flagging story. If you play such stuff straight, as director Beata Pilch seems to have asked her cast to do, you end up with something ludicrous, too extreme to be taken seriously but too flat to provoke laughter.

Of course it’s possible that Pilch and company actually think they’re doing this satire the way it was intended to be done. If that’s the case, the whole lot of them–director included–need to be locked away in some remedial comic-acting class. Of the 11 performers who over- or underact their way through this witty script, only Cyndi Marinangel as the constantly randy whore Cheri has captured the tongue-in-cheek spirit of Eyen’s script.