Girls' Night Out
I found Shaking the Dew From the Lilies, now at the Playwright Theatre, enjoyable in the same way I found nights with girlfriends enjoyable in my twenties. Clad in pajamas or our underwear, we'd dissect each other's relationships amid peals of satirical laughter at the general obtuseness of men, assure each other that, no, we weren't too fat, too skinny, too needy or too aggressive, compare breast sizes in the mirror and drain a bottle or two of wine. Like those long-ago pajama parties, with their sleepy 2 a.m. pauses and endless repetition of specific themes, Shaking the Dew has aimless or boring passages -- but it's all so cozy and amiable that you don't really mind.
Five women are trapped in a shopping-mall bathroom. This is a pretty contrived premise (one of the audience members commented afterward that if it had been five men, the door would have been off its hinges in fifteen minutes flat), but the script and the actresses have enough charm to carry it off. Naturally, these five women are very different; their paths would have been unlikely to cross under any other circumstances. Cynthia is a repressed society girl who says she has never used a public restroom before. Her introduction to slutty Tami occurs when the latter sprays cheap hairspray around the entire mirror area and into her face. There's some bickering about toilet paper, and then Susan and Aja enter. They're a fairly typical girlfriend coupling: Aja is the sexy woman, Susan the heavier, plainer one who basks in her friend's glamorous glow. We will eventually discover the depths of envious rage beneath Susan's pleasant exterior. The group is joined by thoughtful, quiet Nicole, who turns out -- of course -- to be gay.
There's something daring and original about the play's funky setting and about the women's candor regarding sex and other bodily functions, the references to smells, the way the dialogue is periodically punctuated by the sounds of urination and toilets flushing. But the early jokes are pretty feeble (how funny is it, really, to see Cynthia walking around with her skirt caught up in her panties to spasms of suppressed laughter from the others?), and the dialogue is the cliche girly stuff you get on television: talk of droopy breasts, annoying pantyhose, how it's possible to be a feminist without being nasty, some nonsense about women's coffee-drinking habits revealing their innermost feelings about sex, a reference to women ripping off their bras. Everyone in sequence -- well, almost everyone -- describes her first sexual encounter. And, dear God, is there a woman anywhere on this sweet earth -- or at least in fiction -- who isn't struggling to throw off the influence of a selfish, manipulative, insensitive or perfectionist mother?
Eventually, the women begin to reveal their secrets to each other. When prim Cynthia breaks down, it's genuinely shocking, but this is followed far too soon -- before we can fully digest its implications -- by Tami's revelation of childhood trauma. Sequential confessions are a staple of drama in our therapy-saturated culture, but they need to go somewhere. Tearful monologues don't, in themselves, supply a satisfying sense of climax and resolution. This weakness in the script is underlined by the fact that director Cynthia Davies has so many of the revelations delivered from the same spot on the stage.
But somehow the play does prevail. There's something disarming in the way the women come to understand each other in their cluttered, exhausted and enforced intimacy. MaryLee Herrmann's Tami grows on you as the evening progresses, as does Nina Grayson's phlegmatic Nicole. Susan is a difficult role, more a collection of disconnected comments than a human being. Tara Casanova makes her simply matter-of-fact. Kate Avallone and Laura Norman bring real depth to their characterizations, and that animates the evening. Avallone's Aja is sexy, charming and vulnerable, and she responds empathetically to the other characters. At one point, she holds the audience mesmerized with a poem about orgasm that somehow manages to be more lyrical than raunchy. As Cynthia, Laura Norman has a sly, understated humor and a perfect sense of timing; she also makes you see the iron control her character routinely imposes on herself. When Cynthia finally breaks down -- with the help of a bottle of gin -- you can almost hear her heart cracking.
I think this play will get better and better the longer the five actresses work together -- though I do wish playwright Paddy Gillard-Bentley, who is in Denver for this production, would trim and focus the script. Still, I found myself smiling as I left. Everyone needs a girlfriend fix now and then.
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