July 24-30, 1997
Richard Ruyle and Robin Johnson in the premiere of 'An Unhappy Woman'
Photo by Michael Cullen
An Unhappy Woman
Produced by Lee Wochner and Jane Sunderland and presented by Moving Arts at 1822 Hyperion, Los Angeles; (213)665-8961. Opened July 11; plays Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; closes Aug. 31.
Wow! Snap, crackle and pop! A small, intimate space is transformed by on-point timing of projected images, hot jazz, actors who claim their character, and scripted words that ricochet off their lips like bullets against steel. Director Michael Cullen brings to life playwright Michael T. Folie's comic allegory of An Unhappy Woman.
In a world of bar-codes and guns, driven by a search for happiness, trust and true love, an intelligent, tough, beautiful, unhappy woman with a gun (sound familiar?) is transformed to these ideals, not through chocolate cookies but (are you ready for this?) through a sweet, understanding and loving man. Protagonist Gayle (Robin Johnson) meets Hank, her ideal man (Richard Ruyle) and lectures him on the protocol of commuting while waiting for the El-train on a platform in Chicago. Johnson and Ruyle immediately set a riveting tone and rhythm for the play as they sizzle with raw, rapid-fire repartee of literary foreplay in a "dystopian, virtual present-day America." Hank, a New Democrat agent on his nation's mission to find the formulae for happiness meets the "angry woman" Gayle and her perpetually happy roommate Pearl (Madison Charap) and they're off to the White House under a ruse of mystery and lies.
Ruyle and Johnson provide comic entertainment tinged with focused seriousness amid a war zone of urban terrorists led by Pearl's friend Gaylord (Brendan Broms) and technocrats of the "government's biochemical scheme to control its citizens." Julie Briggs as Marjorie, the First Lady lookalike, and her henchman Manuela (Van Stewman, Jr.) provide a counterpoint of stoic discipline and gentle comedy.
Cullen transforms Folie's overly-didactic play and simplistic version of woman into a rollocking comedy with solid production values. Unfortunately, the riveting energy and tension of Johnson and Ruyle are diffused by Charap, Broms and Briggs whose character development falls short of believability. Stewman holds his own as Manuela. Sound designer Rory Johnston creates magical moments through music and volume at key transitions within the play's action.
Sadly, playwright Folie turns too many cheap tricks to get laughs and present his formulae for happiness. Not only does Folie use an over-exploited solution for the unhappy woman, but he also adds unnecessary First Lady jokes and a cultural caricature of a transgender character. This is disconcerting, particularly since Folie's writing can stand alone with its crisp, brisk, clippy, punctuated humor and extended reality.
However, An Unhappy Woman does provide a pleasingly, pleasant plethora of plentiful pundits within a palpable premise of paranoia. Period.
— J. McCar