There’s a big place for comedy in a world that has lately seemed to shun the second wave of feminists who crashed the world’s gender roles in the 1960s, and the heart of that comedy can be found in how younger women react to the feminism of their elders.
Playwright Joanna Murray-Smith’s “The Female of the Species,” which opened this weekend at the North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck under the steady-handed direction of veteran director Bob Kaplan, wrenches just that subject into a twisted and wickedly funny plot involving a self-involved feminist writer, an ex-student with a gun, an exhausted stay-at-home mom, a train-wreck suicide, a bumbling hedge fund manager, a schmoozing publisher and a cabbie with a heart of gold.
At plays’ opening, literary giant Margot Mason is afflicted with a mean case of writer’s block as she attempts to find a title for her overdue manuscript, which should build on an empire of works that mostly have the word ‘vagina’ in the title.
With just over 200 words written and a deadline of yesterday, she thinks she’s in hot water.
But writer’s block becomes the least of her problems when an ex-student with a gun, whose own mother took her life by throwing herself in front of a train clutching one of Margot Mason’s treatises, wanders in through her unlocked French doors.
As you might expect, the female characters steal this show, and it’s a nice reminder that strong women are the backbone of this theater company.
As NFCT President Liz Liszanckie says in her opening message in the program for this show, “from directors to stage managers, authors to music directors, and not to mention our board of directors, the NFCT has women succeeding at all aspects of theatre.”
Susan Hedges is marvelous as Margot — The set of her steely eyes and her determined chin speaks even when she is silent. She spends the better part of the play chained to her writing desk, which she manages to elevate into a pulpit for her ever-shifting ideas about the roles best played by all of woman-kind.
She’s equally adept at physical comedy — I couldn’t contain my laughter as she contorted her body and attempted to find a way to extricate herself from the chains that locked her to her writing desk when left alone on stage.
Kelsey Cheslock is delightfully unhinged as homicidal intruder Molly Rivers, who offers some fawning praise and sage literary advice, including a title for Margot’s book (The Female of the Species!), before abruptly pulling a gun from her purse and setting her psychotic plot in motion.
The role is a far cry from her equally compelling performance as wholesome “American Soap Queen” Christine Colgate in last spring’s NFCT production of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”
Michelle Corbett, who plays Margot’s housewife daughter Tess, is making her first foray into community theater in this production, but she’s a natural, playing a sleep-deprived and sarcastic mother who wanders off from her children and ends up at her mother’s house, where she rolls her eyes at every plot twist as she searches, fruitlessly, for a place to close her eyes and catnap.
With these three women running the show, there’s not much left for the men to do.
If you caught John Lovett’s performance as a slew of sweet and innocent characters in NFCT’s winter production of “Almost, Maine,” you’ll be comforted to see him back here again as Tess’s doting and misquoting husband Bryan.
Cabbie Frank, who seems to know his way around Molly’s gun, is written in bold clichés. But John Hudson plays the part with a sensitivity that breaks down the wall of feminism built up by the three women who dominate this show.
Dashing literary agent Theo, played with aplomb by Kyle Cranston, is daft and darling, even as he learns some incredible news about his and Margot’s past that seems to have been lost to a decade as easily defined by psychotropic drugs as it was by women’s rights.
This is a wordy play, and you’re bound to miss some of the subtleties on a first listen. On opening night, the cast seemed to fumble on occasion with the lines, but I expect they will have it humming smoothly in short time. It’s good to see the NFCT tackle this provocative, topical material.
“The Female of the Species” runs Fridays through Sundays through April 2, with Friday and Saturday shows at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinées at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 and are available online here.