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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 16, 2002

'Women' a subtle study of mothers, life choices

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Drama Critic

"If We Are Women" is an excellent choice for reader's theatre. The character drama by Joanna McClelland Glass is a veritable fugue for four voices on femaleness and motherhood.

'If We Are Women'

2 p.m. Sundays through May 26

Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter

$6, 438-4480

What keeps it from becoming a symposium on women's issues, however, is Glass' ability to create four distinct personalities and Army Community Theatre director Vanita Rae Smith's skill in sustaining dramatic tension right up to the final lines.

Smith also adapts the script for the Reader's Theatre format and introduces several excellent and subtle staging techniques that help the audience imagine the full scene.

The play unfolds in the kitchen and deck of a Connecticut beach house on a spring morning, where four women, connected by blood or marriage, are gathered to share a time of loss.

Jessica's live-in boyfriend and soulmate has recently died.

Jessica's mother, Ruth, and her former mother-in-law, Rachel, have come to help ease the transition. But on this day, Jessica's teen daughter, Polly, has stayed out all night following a school dance.

As Jessica works through her grief, the women unwind their histories and define the play's title: "We see life through our mothers, if we are women." They also demonstrate the difficulty in truly understanding their own motives — or anyone else's.

Ruth (read by Jo Pruden) speaks with pride of enduring hard times on the Canadian prairie. Escaping to a menial job in the city, she primarily regrets never having learned to read.

Rachel (Shari Lynn), a well-educated woman with advanced degrees, is in love with knowledge for its own sake, yet complaining that her gender and her Jewish heritage kept her from the advantages of an Ivy League diploma.

Jessica (Kathe James) is a published author, who believes her life would have been improved if she had attended college.

Out of these individual regrets and "if-onlys," the women reveal their ties.

If not for a precipitating event, such prolonged self-indulgence could become tedious. But Polly (Jayme Shirrell) reveals that she gave up her virginity to the high school dropout son of a wealthy neighbor and that she intends to abandon Yale to join the young man on a Colorado farm.

The women pounce on Polly, determined to knock better sense into her. Polly retaliates by skewering her elders with their own excuses for rationalizing failure.

The women react with their personal analyses of motherhood and the common ungratefulness of children. In the play's best observation, mothers try to give their children advantages, but ultimately "every time a child is born, we start from zero."

As the action seesaws over Polly's choice, Smith's staging quietly takes over. Each character breaks from the family circle to address the audience directly, then returns to rejoin the debate. The tension builds until the entire cast is on its feet, addressing the audience in unison like a nagging Greek chorus.

Ultimately, humor brakes the tension, melting the emotion back to human proportions and allowing the characters to once again deal together as family.

"If We Are Women" carefully balances its thesis against its humanity and makes for a stimulating two acts.

 •  'If We Are Women'

2 p.m. Sundays through May 26

Richardson Theatre,

Fort Shafter

$6 38-4480