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A CurtainUp DC Review
by Rich See
Landless Theatre returns to DCAC with another new work, this time light-heartedly examining the idea of the political mistress. An equal employment company, Landless brings us famous and not-so-famous, as well as female and male, mistresses from throughout history. While they seem to have stretched the definition just a bit in order to include some relatively short-term (but very famous) extramarital affairs, their research does point out one thing -- without patience, tenacity and stratagem, most mistresses have their fifteen minutes of fame and then end up in not so great post-relationship situations.
To assist would-be and the up & coming mistresses amongst us, the Landless ensemble has created a "How To" manual of vignettes which bring nine mistresses to the stage, along with tips on perfecting your own mistress craft. With titles like "Check Your Makeup," "Keep A Record," and "Yes, You Can Be A Working Parent," the mistresses cross the stage and share their sides of these famous pairings. Included are: Marilyn Monroe (Jack and Bobby Kennedy), Nell Gwynn (Charles II of England), Eva Braun (Adolph Hitler), Camilla Parker-Bowles (Prince Charles), Monica Lewinsky (Bill Clinton) and Sally Hemmings (Thomas Jefferson). The not so familiar include: Gregory Potemkin (Catherine the Great), Tzu Hsi (Emperor Hsien Feng of China) and Robert Dudley (Queen Elizabeth I).
While still a work in progress, the company goes at the material with their usual desire to have a good time and keep the laughs flowing. The use of Marilyn Monroe as a narrator and melding her tragic story with Eva Braun's equally deadly liaison is creative, although not entirely hashed out. Eva makes her first appearance on stage without any introduction, thus the audience is left for a time to wonder who this unhappy looking woman represents. The various dead and alive mistresses seem to communicate to Marilyn, which is slightly confusing. And when Princess Di appears to Ms. Parker-Bowles, who is hosting a party, it seems like perhaps two different plays have been combined.
All that said though, this isn't Tolstoy, it's simply tongue-in-cheek entertainment designed to make you laugh and perhaps go home and Google Tzu Hsi, Gregory Potemkin and a few of the other less familiar names. Although Landless seems to be trying to give the work some added depth and seriousness, the company is really best when it allows itself to play for laughs such as with moments like Monica Lewinsky telling Linda Tripp "I just want to bask in the moment. The first wang has touched my lips."
In DCAC's small blackbox space, the staging is of course basic, although Landless does a nice job of creating a Marilyn boudoir that is complete with pills and alcohol. Slide projections let us in on who is coming up, as well as suggestions on mistress behavior. And the between scene music features Billie Holiday, the Tommy Dorsey band and others playing love songs; while a small, red, heart-shaped box makes an appearance in each story acting like a connecting thread between each of the mistresses. Is the box a symbol of requited love or lost dreams? -- that's up for you to decide.
Landless is performing Mistress concurrently with its original rock musical Carrie Potter at the Half Blood Prom. Mistress plays at 7:30 pm while Carrie Potter begins at 10 pm. DCAC has an interesting art exhibit in its gallery and offers wine and beer between the shows for those who want to stay for both performances.