This two-character drama has an interesting premise going for it. A benign type of woman--middle-aged, mild-mannered, soft-spoken--is making a statement about a random act of violence.
A carry-out boy at a supermarket has been killed while trying to apprehend an armed mugger, the
play's protagonist, Mrs. Martin Cage, has shot, not the gunman, but the woman who was mugged.
We've seen enough news stories about ordinary citizens driven to murder in self-defense or the
defense of someone else so that we can fathom why this ordinary housewife grabbed the
gunman's gun and pulled the trigger. But why in the world did she shoot the victim of the crime?
In short this is a drama that centers less on what happened but why. The puzzle unravels in just a
little longer than a session with a psychiatrist. But, the setting is not a psychiatrist's office but a
police station; and the man gently nudging the eerily calm, unlikely shooter into laying bare the
inner recesses of her psyche is a police lieutenant. It doesn't take long to realize that had Mrs.
Cage spent a few sessions with a psychiatrist, she might have spared herself--and us-- this
confrontation with Lt. Ruben Angel. Before you draw the conclusion that Mrs.
Cage lacks all redeeming virtues, let's list those that make it worth an hour and ten
minutes of your time:
Nancy Barr is a gifted writer and this character sketch has many lines to prove it.
- Alberta Handelman has directed herself ably in the starring role and Heath C. A. Stanwhyck
provides able support as the Lieutenant.
- The tensions that build up in a character whose life is a loosely sewn patchwork that's coming
apart at the seams and the underlying theme of accountability for our actions could turn what
happens on stage into an interesting discussion.
The last of these virtues, however, leads us back to the flaws in this play.
The whole housewife-versus-career lifestyle issue is as limp as a basket of unironed shirts.
Marilyn French dealt with the issue of shirt ironing wives in her feminist novel The
Women's Room back in 1977. Today, or even if the program notes set the action in 1989 or
1990 when the play first saw the light of day, the 55-year-old protagonist seems out of synch with
her time frame in history. The overriding issue of crimes and misdemeanors aided and abetted
by lawyers like Martin Cage, a prosecutor turned defense lawyer who helps rapists and murderers
evade the consequences of their acts, is of course, more timely than ever. The problem is that
Mrs. Cage's willingness to take responsibility for her action--refusing her husband's help, refusing
to plead insanity--is a far cry from a description of the show that stated that she "may well be the last
person in the world willing to take responsibility for her action." The truth of the matter is that
she takes responsibility for one action, but not for herself. True to her symbolic name, she has preferred to
remain caged in the life she started out with, rather than to open the cage door and learn to cope
with the changing world outside--make some friends, take a course, join a political or social
action group, volunteer in a soup kitchen or get a job. In short, to get a life instead of taking one.
©right February 1997, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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