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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Peggy and Karen Shoot for the Funny Bone in Women Who Steal

Also see Bob's review of A Seagull in the Hamptons

Women Who Steal
Stephanie Dorian and Liz Zazzi
The fast-paced direction of SuzAnne Barabas and the uninhibited performances of her top flight cast make the best possible case for Women Who Steal, an ambitious, raucous feminist comedy by Carter W. Lewis. His satiric screwball farce is a hit and miss affair with a great deal of clever writing which, for most of its length, keeps the humor coming at a fast, nonstop pace.

In two acts and fifteen scenes, Women Who Steal takes us on a more or less six hour lawless joy ride with Karen and Peggy and, in satirical fashion examines the long running battle of the sexes, middle aged female psyches (and to a lesser extent, those of the male) while very loosely poking fun at the format of such female buddy films as Thelma and Louise.

The fifty-year-old Peggy (Liz Zazzi) has concluded that Jack, her husband of twenty-three years, has been having an affair with the prettier and ten years younger Karen (Stephanie Dorian). Peggy has asked Karen to meet her for dinner. At the restaurant, Karen casually acknowledges that she has slept with Jack (just once, a few weeks earlier). The single Karen runs a successful real estate business. Fearful that she is getting old and losing her attractiveness, Karen is more concerned about another man in her life than she is about her one-nighter. Only when she sees Peggy's young daughter, Milly, at the end of the first act, will she realize the hurt that she has caused.

Peggy and Karen leave the restaurant in Peggy's car and embark on a spree. It begins with drinks at a bar where they meet Herb (all of the men in the play are played by Bill Timoney) with whom Peggy has shared a long simmering, unfulfilled passion. Their wending journey will take them to Peggy's house where the inebriated Peggy will grab a BB gun and shoot her husband Jack six times, unintentionally blinding him in one eye. Then they are off to the bedroom of Karen's not quite boyfriend Stanley, whom they kidnap. After more scenes and contretemps, there is a happy ending. Although those who remember Karen's monologue that begins Women Who Steal will know that happy endings are only delusional.

Women Who Steal is overstuffed with material, and fails to separate the wheat from the chaff. There is both wisdom and pseudo-wisdom present. And, even when the writing is strong, Carter W. Lewis often continues on well after his point has been made. The opening words spoken by the unhappy Karen (to which I just referred), depending on one's points of view, may well embody all these qualities. In part, Karen says:

... (it is) the indisputable truth, the unavoidable truth, that truth being, life is death. Germs and worms nibbling at our toes. And people who are alive are merely duping themselves into believing that they’ve survived. Come now, really, I’m alive so I’ve survived? - how sophomoric is that? How could they think that, when the very act of living is dying. Argue, if you will, that life precludes death, or life is just death in the early stages, but life by either definition is still, unequivocally, death. Of course the red herring, the great lie, the universal deception is hope. Hope is the Moby Dick of red herrings.  Hope was invented by smart people for the maintenance of stupid people. Hope is something to feed the sub-standard among us. Hope is a cheeseburger and fries for people who are too stupid to realize they’re already dead ...

The overall effect is like watching a series of "Saturday Night Live" sketches built around Peggy and Karen. In fact, some of these scenes (i.e., Herb goes to a park by a lake with Peggy and Karen) are unessential to the narrative. Still, the writing is well above that of much sketch comedy.

The following is one of the exchanges intended to show us that Peggy is from a lower class background. It's a solid example of Lewis' fine comic playwriting:

Peggy: "The Road Not Open." I always hated that poem. Fuck Carl Sandburg.
Karen: Robert Frost. All Carl Sandburg ever did was have fog come in on little cat’s feet. You can’t fuck Carl Sandburg for that
Peggy: I guess not.
Karen: And it’s "The Road Not Taken."  That’s crucial. "Not taken" is a choice. "Not open" is more...fate.  You can’t regret fate. You can be fucking pissed off about it, but you can’t regret it.
Peggy: Sorry, I didn’t know the rules.

There are many more such examples. However, your response to the following abbreviated example of feminist humor, neither the best nor the worst provided by Carter W. Lewis, should give you a good feel as to whether Women Who Steal is to your taste. The words are spoken to Herb in tag team rotation by Karen and Peggy:

No, Herb, you don’t understand, unless you’ve been reading up on estrogen levels and vasomotor symptoms.  Changes in brain chemistry that can spin the hypothalamus on its heels causing piercing flashes of heat in the lower abdomen, waves of scalding hot needles that make you feel as though you’ve been attacked by a thousand irate acupuncturists! Have you ever had to change your pajamas three times in one night to avoid chilling from the buckets of sweat you soaked them with?  Ever come home in a tennis skirt only to discover you’ve bled a big red stop sign on your butt?  Ever woken up with cramps and a one-hundred-percent cotton floral patterned nightshirt ripped at the seams from the violence of your own clenching and twisting?

Ever had your tits hurt, Herb?  Has your heart ever performed the drum solo from "Inna Godda Dovida"?  How about a collagen implant, ever had one of those?  Ever had a chemical peel?  Or a derma abrasion?  That’s the way to go. It’s far less painful, Herb. They just hook up the old Black and Decker and sand your face down like an old piece of furniture.  Then there’s fibroids, cervicitis, cervical dysplasia, osteoporosis, endometriosis, vaginitis, urethritis, honeymoon’s disease, lumps, bumps and chumps whose empathetic response is "bitch, bitch, bitch, just drink a beer and shut up."

Not that you couldn't care, Herb, but you definitely don't understand. Yes, yes, you've got your own problems, or should I say problem. You've got a prostate. I am so sick of hearing about men's prostates! (Whining) "My prostate's enlarged, it's cramping my urethra." If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times! No Herb, you don't have a clue. At this age, Herb, the only similarities that exist between us is that we both have mustaches! ..."

Inexplicably, the last ten minutes of the play are virtually devoid of laughter. Suddenly the tone of Women Who Steal shifts totally, and we are given very heartfelt speeches mostly by Peggy and Jack about love, devotion and commitment. There is a disconnect here that pulls the rug out from under the viewer without any discernible reason.

Stephanie Dorian and Liz Zazzi bring dimension to their roles without sacrificing any of the humor. Without softening the thoughtless cruelty of the thoughtless other woman, Dorian makes us see and understand Karen's own desperation. Zazzi provides comic fireworks as the BB gun toting Peggy whom you betray at your own risk. Bill Timoney provides solid support as Herb, Stanley and Jack, and in two additional roles.

The set by Charles Corcoran features about a dozen locations (including several car trips), and is both spare and handsome. It features a large screen at the rear onto which well chosen, evocative digital images are projected. The transforming lighting is by Jill Nagle.

Women Who Steal continues performances (Eves: Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 7 p.m./ Mats. Sat. 3 p.m..; Sun. 2 p.m.) through June 15, 2008 at the Lumia Theatre, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, N.J. 07740. Box Office: 732-229-3166 ; online: www.njrep.org.

Women Who Steal by Carter W. Lewis; directed by SuzAnne Barabas
Cast
Karen…………..Stephanie Dorian
Peggy…………………..Liz Zazzi
The Men…………...Bill Timoney


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- Bob Rendell



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