Ring my bell


By Lisa Harris
Directed by Floyd Rumohr
Chekhov Theatre Ensemble
Producer's Club II
616 9th Ave. (279-1858)
Equity showcase (closes March 21)
Review by Adam Cooper

Too few productions feature a female playwright and honestly attempt to explore women's issues. Lisa Harris, who starred in and wrote her own one-woman show, attempts to address this void. With an impatient lover waiting outside her bathroom, frustrated Lisa conducts a journey of self-exploration guided by her lack of ever experiencing an orgasm. Through soliloquy and role-playing, she relives and examines her romantic and sexual experiences, gaining insight and self-acceptance. The production was entertaining but ultimately fell short of a satisfying experience.

Lisa wants to be a good lover. She has insecurities about her body, fears of abandonment, and difficulties functioning sexually. She examines relationships with an assortment of men. There was popular Charlie, an early boyfriend with whom all was new and exciting. Later, there's a so-called boyfriend with whom sex was "a lot of work," who dumped her for sex elsewhere. And there was a Navy man with whom she had a terrifying experience. She interviews men to unlock the magic ingredient for attraction, which she discovers is being "nice." This leads her to explore what common relationship verbiage like "being nice," "having a boyfriend," and "fucking" really mean.

She relates dialogue about sexual experiences: alienating sex talk with her father, sex education from a seasoned counselor at Bible camp, or various therapies - which include "practicing" (masturbation), lengthy self-examination before a mirror, and a rewarding trip to a sex-toy shop. Well into adulthood, she has difficulty using a prophylactic device, has experienced many years of celibacy, and fakes orgasm without knowing what one is really like.

While there was wide episodic coverage of her sensual life, what was presented was largely incomplete and unresolved snippets of experience. Their incompleteness made Lisa's character changes seem unreal, resulting in a metamorphosis both unearned and artificial. Organic connections were needed to unify the different phases of Lisa's life. Ultimately what's required is a better-defined, dramatically evolving character. Without a richer characterization that goes beyond romantic and sexual encounters, Lisa's journey becomes more of a curiosity than a concern, with more complaining than confronting.

Lisa Harris's vigorous, spunky, often engaging performance (although Lisa's unsympathetic caricatures of those in her life are limiting), complemented by Floyd Rumohr's brisk direction, did much to keep the play moving and to compensate for the text's weaknesses.

What regrettably did not help was the fragmented, suggestive set (Michelle Malavet) of Lisa's bathroom. The stark crudeness of the metallic bathroom set pieces inhibited travel to the various locales on Lisa's journey. The prominent vine-like sculpture of small, irregularly shaped mirrors suggested the various Lisas explored and ironically represented the disunity of those Lisas at play's end.

The lighting (Timothy Parsaca) established the different settings but lacked subtlety. Costuming was simplistic and needed inspiration. The production had high aspirations. Hopefully with rewrites it can achieve its inspired goals.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 1999 Adam Cooper