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But Rosie's upbeat image and the rush into the work force by thousands of traditional homemakers also had its darker side. As working outside the home brought a sense of empowerment as well as the satisfaction of contributing to the war effort it also chipped away at many women's acceptance of traditional ways to lead a fulfilling life. Most of these "Rosies" happily switched back to tending their families (at least until the 60s), but there were many for whom the end of their wartime jobs was like a window of opportunity that was briefly opened and now slammed shut.
Roxy (Lucy Deakins), one of the three ammunitions factory workers in Julie Jensen's new drama, Cheat, feels the slamming of that door most acutely. Until she went to work her lower middle-class life in Dearborn, Michigan has been totally uneventful, her future as a wife and mother predictable. But working has changed Roxy and the end of the war threatens to end the working life she has come to like and need as well as her relationship with Reva (Karen Young) an older woman -- an intense situation fostered by the extreme tensions of the war that has brought its own tragedy along with considerable joy.
Roxy and Reva's still corseted in silence love affair is triangular in that Roxy's boyfriend Sonny is Reva's son. It seems Sonny, after seeing what was going on between his sweetheart and mother, joined up and, given his state of mind and chip-of-the-old block penchant for alcohol, seems a likely candidate for becoming a war casualty. When the guilt-stricken Reva turns away from her, Roxy gets pregnant by and marries fifty-year-old D-Dubb (Kevin O'Rourke) a nice enough man whom she can never love even though he keeps insisting "we're a good match."
Contrary to what you may think, I'm not giving away too many plot details. That's because this story, which has all the elements of a sin-suffer-and-repent melodrama from the pages of an old issue of True Confessions, holds few surprises. Ms. Jensen is not a flashy writer and relies on quiet character building to hold our attention. She fills us in on the mostly off-stage events through spare conversational interchanges, with little action in any of the ten intermissionless scenes that shift between the factory and Roxy and D-Dubb's home. While this low key style hardly makes for edge-of-the-seat or tear inducing theater, it is the play's strongest suit.
Often what's not said and the shift in a character from silent to talkative is as revealing as the spoken words. In the Roxy-Reva scenes Roxy is the big talker, desperately trying to persuade Reva that what has happened between them is not a mistake, and in the Roxy-D-Dubb scenes Roxy's yearning for less talk from him underscores the impossibility of this partnership. But these silences and pauses are less enigmatic as in a Pinter play, than punctuation marks.
Like Jensen's Two Headed, also produced by Women's Project & Productions and directed by Joan Vail Thorne, Cheat is a small play that speaks to a big event and its effect on ordinary people. The pace is almost static but the chracters talk like real people, never in lengthy monologues. Their similes, while often trenchant, are purposefully cliched. Jensen packs an enormous amount of information into each exchange and the actors tap into the feelings bubbling beneath the words and the frequent silences.
Lucy Deakins' conveys her frustration and love without shedding a single tear. Like Edna Turnblad in the peppy musical hit, Hairspray (our review), Deakins' Roxy often seems shackled to her ironing board. Karen Young is all melancholy regret, a beautiful and still young woman in her forties who, typical for the times, sees herself as old (though I don't believe people get liver spots on their hands in their forties!). Kevin O'Rourke makes us feel sorry for him even as we share Roxy's desperate impatience with his endless jokes and platitudes. Shayna Ferm adds a welcome light note to the secondary role of Roxy's friend Edie who is smart enough to be aware of the women's relationship. Of the three women, Edie is the most practical and adjusted to the mores of the day; yet, if the play had a sequel, you can bet that while love may "miss its mark " and cheat Reva, Edie will be a survivor whose housewifely twenties and thirties won't keep her out of the women's movement when she reaches Reva's age.
Cheat runs ninety minutes and would benefit from confining itself to the listed seventy-five. The staging, like the play, is spare and stark, with David P. Gordon's two tier set allowing the shifts between factory and home without any distracting prop movements. It would be nice to see some photo projections of World War II factory life instead of the repeated shadowy images of two machine operators but then nothing about this play addresses the taste of those who favor more theatrical snap, crackle and pop.
Two - Headed/Jensen, Julie
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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