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A CurtainUp Review
Passionate Women

Mario Fratti subtitled his play Passionate Women as "a comedy about creativity and stealing.quot; By modeling his central character, Nino (Tony Torn), on a Frederico Fellini-like character, Fratti shows that the famous film maker's genius was inextricably linked to the women who are hostages to the excessive creative angst that rears its head with each new project. To assuage his creative impotence he goes to bed with every woman within sight. Note, those words. Going to bed has little to do with making love in a man for whom creative and sexual impotence are one and the same. Instead, like a baby hungrily suckling at its mother's breast, Nino uses his bed partners as sources of creative energy and ideas. Once replenished and ready to move forward with another project, the limp lover becomes a sexual dynamo. To further complicate matters, there's William (Bruce Katzman) who compensates for his frustration at never being credited for his work by exploiting women, preferably Nino's women.

Not surprisingly resentment is bound to rise in the women caught in this web of sexual manipulation and it is their rebellion that is at the heart of Fratti's comeuppance plot. By uniting six women -- amongst them his wife and the wife of his co-writer and co-exploiter -- Fratti stacks the deck so that Nino (as well as William) can't possibly win this battle of the sexes.

The game plan of the six women is this: With the help of a wealthy American feminist widow, they decide to reverse Nino's systematic creative voyeurism by secretly filming him. With a hidden camera running they entrap him in situations where he reveals his secrets and fantasies. For the audience's amusement and enlightenment, they are given a camera view via a live onstage live video.

The revenge play succeeds -- at least in the sense that the six women end up literally and figuratively on top in the power play for sexual and artistic control. Unhappily, as a young Italian Fulbright scholar sitting next to me said when we walked to the subway together, "this has all been said already". While some plays age well, the feminist angle of Passionate Women has indeed been talked and written about and dramatized ad infinitum during the twenty-one years it's taken for Mr. Fratti's play to have its American premiere. (It was produced in New Delhi and Italy in 1977 and had a reading at the Actors Studio a year later).

Perhaps a really compelling portrayal of Nino would have rubbed off on the play and made its dated feeling less noticeable. The women do much better and, thanks to Quina Fonseca's costumes, are a pleasure to watch. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of the staging. Granted that a bed is the central central metaphor but in this play it's re-angled and re-made as often as a room at a Holiday Inn. I literally heard some people groaning as stagehand came out yet again to move and make up the stage bed. Would that the director had dreamed up a few more inspired prop switches like the table cloth in an early scene which actually turns out to be a sexy robe worn with great panache by one of Nino's women (Holly Cate). The video projection also tends towards the mediocre, thus failing to provide the play with the called for clever touch

The subject of creative appropriation is timeless and interesting enough for a full play. Too bad it's tied to this rather tired feminist polemic by a clearly well-intentioned and respectful of women playwright.

By Mario Fratti
Directed by Joumana Rizk
With Holly Cate, Maria Cellario, Bruce Katzman, Charmaine Lord, Rebecca Nelson, Tony Torn and Susan Wands.
Set design: Jonathan Marvel
Costume design: Quina Fonseca.
Video design:s by James Rattazzi Lighting design: Howard Thies
Sound design: Han Yong.
La MaMa E.T.C. (First Floor Theater), 74A East Fourth Street (212/ 475-7710)
Thursdays through Sundays at 8:00; plus Sunday, 12/20 5:00 pm performance
12/03/98-12/20/98; opens 12/05/98
Performances; opened, 1998
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer

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©Copyright 1998, Elyse Sommer,
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