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A CurtainUp Review
TThe Pain of My Belligerence

I was very interested in the hypocrisy of self-identifying liberals, because I see that hypocrisy in myself too. It goes hand in hand with a lot of profound frustrations common in heterosexual romantic relationships, which I've experienced myself --particularly the corrosive effects of toxic masculinity on men and women alike.
— Halley Feiffer on her new play The Pain of My Belligerence.
Halley Feiffer and Hamish Linklater (photo: Joan Marcus)
Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. That old saw ideally fits Halley Feiffer's new play The Pain of My Belligerence, a dark comedy about how we perpetuate our roles in a patriarchal culture. Directed by her longtime collaborator Trip Cullman, and featuring Feiffer and Hamish Linklater in the lead roles, it is a study of a toxic heterosexual relationship against the backdrop of three elections.

Actor-playwright Feiffer, whose earlier works include I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City and How to Make Friends and Then Kill Them has a bent for barbed social humor. It might be in her blood. Feiffer is the daughter of cartoonist-playwright-screenwriter Jules Feiffer and monologist Jenny Allen.

As the lights go up, we meet Cat (Feiffer) and Guy (Linklater) on their first date at an upscale restaurant on Election Night 2012. Cat is single, a 29 year-old journalist for The New Yorker whose star is on the rise. Guy is married, almost 40, and has two young children. He's a successful businessman who co-manages with his wife Yuki (Vanessa Kai) an international chain of high-end Asian restaurants.

Before their first date is over, and the election returns are tallied, the charismatic Guy will seduce Cat. Their affair, which includes graphic nude scenes, lasts 8 years, schematically coinciding with three elections.

This is as much as you need to know. Yet, if you pay close attention to the story, you'll notice that Cat‘s life begins to erode as soon as she falls for Guy.

Although Guy and Cat are hardly likable characters, they do provoke some serious questions. Is the author creating a toxic sketch of a bad boy and equally bad girl as a cautionary tale for us? Is she mocking them for their foolheartiness—or maybe us —for feeling superior to them? Or is Guy a stand-in for the current guy in the Oval office? Who knows, though Feiffer does seem to be exploring the underbelly of our Trumpian world and its profound scrutiny of gender.

Feiffer began writing The Pain of My Belligerence as the 2016 election ratcheted up and she noticed that a number of men who condemned Trump's misogyny were indeed mirroring it. To borrow her quote from my press materials: "I was very interested in the hypocrisy of self-identifying liberals, because I see that hypocrisy in myself too. It goes hand in hand with a lot of profound frustrations common in heterosexual romantic relationships, which I've experienced myself--particularly the corrosive effects of toxic masculinity on men and women alike."

The bilaterally talented Feiffer proves here that she can act as well as write-. She inhabits Cat early on with all the feistiness of a gung-ho journalist with a brilliant future. Later on, she changes into a more sober woman who can admit her mistakes, even if she can't erase their consequences.

Linklater is spot-on as the raffish Guy who is the epitome of arrogance and a classic study of a sociopath. Incapable of seeing Cat as a person with dreams of her own, he can only see her as a projection of himself. Or as he egotistically puts it at one point: "That's what I like about you. I can project whatever I want onto you."

When it comes to the supporting actors, Vanessa Kai is well-cast as Guy's successful business partner and wife, Yuki. She is the personification of the long-suffering wife who remains loyal even though she well-knows of her husband's dalliances. Last but not least, is Keira Belle Young as Guy's younger daughter Olive. Although Young is only briefly on stage in the closing scene, she makes every minute count.

Mark Wendland's naturalistic set (lit by Ben Stanton) suits this play neat division into three parts. What we see in the performing area of the Peter Jay Sharp Theater is wood carpentered to perfection. Whether it's the upscale restaurant booth in the opening scene, Cat's Inwood apartment in the second sketch, or Yuki's posh home in the coda, Wendland's multiple sets catch the eye and serve the dramatic moment.

What is especially arresting about the set is its maze-like quality, especially at the play's midpoint. Guy and Cat appear to be almost lost at times in the sunken angular passageways, calling between slatted-wooden doors and rooms, not knowing what lies around the next corner for them.

I do have reservations, especially in how Lyme Disease is dramaturgically employed. Having Cat contract the contract the disease and the way she deals with it is a too obvious symbol of her pathological relationship with Guy , who compulsively bites women to whom he's sexually attracted. Do you really have to beome pysically ill to undo a diseased relationship?

Despite its flaws, The Pain of My Belligerence is a potent look at the terrible toll of toxic masculinity on both genders. Although Feiffer gives us a bleak portrait of our misogynistic culture she also offers a not to be ignored truth.

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The Pain Of My Belligerance by Halley Feiffer
Directed by Trip Cullman
Cast: Halley Feiffer (Cat), Hamish Linklater (Guy), Vanessa Kai (Yuki), Keira Bella Young (Olive).
Sets: Mark Wendland
Costumes: Paloma Young
Sound: Elisbeba Ittoop
Lighting: Ben Stanton
Stage Manager: Katie Ailinger
Playwrights Horizons' Peter Jay Sharp Theater at 416 West 42nd Street. Tickets: $49 and up. Phone 212-279-4200 or online
From 3/29/19; opening 4/22/19; closing 5/12/19.
Tuesday through Friday @ 7:30pm; Saturday @ 2pm & 7:30pm; Sunday @ 2pm & 7pm.
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 4/18/19.

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