The war at home


Why D’Ya Make Me Wear This, Joe?

Written by Vanda
Directed by Melissa Attebery
Fresh Fruit Festival
Abingdon Theatre
Equity Showcase (Closed)
Reviewed by Michael D. Jackson


The baffling title is the beginning of the end for this good idea gone wrong. Why D’Ya Make Me Wear This, Joe?  depicts a lesbian relationship during W.W.II between two women as their fiancés are off to war. There will always be interest in stories of the past for the gay audience, for those stories have been so hidden from us over the decades. Yet Joe, with its rambling series of events, dolloped historical tidbits and sluggish direction by Melissa Attebery makes for a tedious bore.


Joe feels long and many pointless aspects might have been cut to give the production a better pace. Foremost, there is the extraneous character of The Old Woman (Eileen Lacy), who we quickly realize is Charlie (Cheryl Leibert) in her younger years. The concept of the play is that Older Charlie is moving out of some home that happens to have dozens of articles reminding her of her war time relationship with Aubra (Amanda Weeden). The memories come to life and play out the real story of the play. Older Charlie never fit into the play well and she ended up being a glorified set and props mover. She couldn’t do the technical chores alone, however, and was joined by a literal mover (Same Cates), who, outside of playing a father character at one point, simply moves boxes out of the way. Simply dropping the Old Woman character would have tightened up the play considerably, for by the end, her presence never amounts to anything and she is forced to interact with the young characters as a kind of a ghost. This is backwards, for it was established in the beginning that the Old Woman was conjuring up the ghosts. Or, is she manipulating history as a fantasy?  Her attempts to do so never work, for history cannot be changed, but the audience was supposed to be working with her imagination and all she can do is imagine one last dance with her former lover.


Odd jokes are dropped in that seem ridiculous in light of the sincere thrust of the play. In a desperate plea to convince Aubra to move in and start a life together, Charlie says, “I hear there are people like us in Greenwich Village.”  This line got a laugh, but it was a disrespectful laugh, standing out as one of many dropped-in historical points. Several scenes are awkward, with actors seemingly searching to find the words to say to each other and not getting their points across. Much time goes by before the play gets to a point. There is a blatant exposition scene between Charlie and her husband Joe (Jimmy Maize) at the top of the second act as the two pause to talk before ringing a doorbell. Everything one needs to catch up after the intermission is released until finally the bell is rung and the play can continue on.


There is another plot and character point that Aubra has polio, secluding her in her house. Although this point does much to embitter the character and Charlie’s entrance into her life might have turned this sour attitude of life into joy, this is never really explored. The polio doesn’t affect Aubra’s ability to find satisfaction with women a hindrance in the least. In fact she states that she has had many women, as her husband travels a lot. And so the very good idea of the entire enterprise has been dropped. It is not about a crippled lesbian who has her faith restored when another woman enters her life, but an obvious tale about how impossible it was for gay relationships to succeed in the world before Stonewall. That was general knowledge going in.


The technical aspects were all handled well under limited festival conditions, though they were necessarily basic. Wigs might have been given more attention as well as fastened securely upon the actors’ heads. The cast gave overall sincere and credible performances with Cheryl Leibert standing out as particularly winning and Wayne Asbury quite honest as Philip. If the playwright is willing to go back to work, a judicial editing job and an eye toward revealing history with more than the obvious details might transform the play into something the genre of gay and lesbian theatre really needs.


Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 0
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2006 Michael D. Jackson