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A CurtainUp Review
The play's structure could possibly be seen as a Russian wooden nesting doll pattern. But instead of starting with the biggest doll and discovering smaller ones within, this play starts with the smallest and works out. The women's disturbing and comic behavior in the opening scenes (doll 1) isn't spontaneous. It's actually material that one of the women happens to be creating, writing and blogging (doll 2).
Later two badass guys show up in the same hotel room and use the same expressions and do the same gross-out things that the women did. One of them, Owen (Allen Radway), is writing a screenplay that includes the hookers' dialogue. He will recast them as feminist incarnations in a brutal and ludicrous war movie scenario. The whole crazy girl thing is revealed to be a male idea of what females would say and do (doll 3). To complete the structure analogy, the biggest doll (4) which contains the others, is the woman playwright's vision that interprets and flays prevailing male ideas about women.
The nesting doll theory works fine up to a point, but not everything fits in this Rashomon-tinged mash up. It spills all over the place, because it has more than one center. There's an odd, long Dada-esqe dinner with mock-formal manners and a horrific war story. At times the women roll around on the floor, but stop when the war story man snaps his fingers. And apropos of nothing, an angelic Jane Fonda (Headlong's Amy Smith) pops in and out of scenes, a beneficent yet ineffectual force for balance. Owen, the skewered screenwriter, acts out his LGBT musings. And bad boy Rod (Jered McLenigan) performs in a Robert Plant-like spotlighted cameo. Finding consistent meaning is a stretch.
Jorge Cousineau's scenic and video design sets this stunning production apart as it aids the erratic story's flow. The initial set is an utterly predictable, beige hotel room. This real-time scene, however, is often replaced by a pre-recorded video of the same room with the same actors projected on a big screen in front of the actual room. The projection, which looks just like the real thing, allows for amazing scene transitions and convincing bloody events. Cousineau's use of large-scale video is reminiscent of his work in Sunday in the Park with George and also of Thaddeus Phillips's life-size, interactive video in the last Live Arts Festival.
This entertaining and remarkably offensive play may be the writer's critique of prevailing entertainment. It may be a feminist answer to male POV. As themes spin out of their orbits, the play covers its ass in its reflexive doubling back, seeming to add up to more than is actually there. And like Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers with its strong element of reaction formation, That Pretty Pretty wallows in what it appears to criticize. This is not to say that Sheila Callaghan's play isn't well done. More questions are raised than answered, and in its weird and rough way the play is radiant with ideas. It's a good fit for theatre exile. You have to see it to believe it.