Yes, Jesus love me!

Missionary Position

By Tara Greenway in collaboration with Ariane Brandt
Performed by Tara Greenway
Directed by Ariane Brandt
Equity showcase (closes May 3)
145 Ave. of the Americas (647- 0202)
Review by John Chatterton

This play tells one woman's tale of growing up fundamentalist Christian and - perhaps as a result - having trouble mastering the details of sexual intercourse. It turns out that, in addition to her having all the hangups expected in someone from such an uptight environment, her vagina has a rare physical condition that makes intercourse without a local anesthetic impossible. The condition eventually goes away, and she triumphantly can have sex just like any other woman. That the result is reminiscent of Sylvester Stallone's ascent of the steps in the training sequence of Rocky gives some idea of the overall tone of the piece - it has everything but a 12-step program to celebrate the protagonist's emergence as a "natural woman."

A tantalizing hint suggests what this tale might have become if it had grown beyond a rehash of the patient's - sorry, character's - case history. The rare vaginal condition is known to occur in cases of child abuse. But of course, she didn't suffer from that. And so the potential for pulling back the veils on a troubled childhood, of finding out what really went on behind that Baptist white picket fence, flutters away, and with it all chances of ambiguity and irony. (And if she really wasn't abused, there goes an opportunity to escape a semi-autobiographical tale that might be more appropriate in a doctor's office.) It takes courage, and perhaps a wee bit of self-absorption, for Greenway to spend nearly two hours talking about her vagina; it takes more than courage to turn it into a play.

In other hands this could be an embarrassing case history - well, for some audiences, it probably would be anyway. But Greenway punctuates this confessional tale with witty one-liners, like "I was a cross between Midas and Delilah. Everything I touched turned to sex," and she portrayed the different characters of her many gynecologists, therapists, counselors, and one true lover, as well as herself at various ages, with agility, so that the overall effect was positive. (Choreography, Marlene McCoy.)

The physical staging offered Greenway more support - in the form of two benches, a ramp with a horizontal, pillowlike cylinder, and a giant headboardlike backdrop - than she probably needed, mostly made from neatly carpentered but unstained plywood. The backdrop had holes carved in it that emphasized its thickness and the patterns projected by lights from behind. (Set and projection design, Michael Selditch.) Every time Greenwood mentioned a scriptural passage, it was projected on the backdrop, as were pictures of the moon and stars when called for in the text, as well as slides of neon signs to accompany her arrival on 42nd St. in Gomorrah East. These physical details, together with a lighting plot that lurched all over the set to keep her in focus, were, like much of the script, well-intentioned overkill. (Lighting design, Matthew Adelson.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1

Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/sound: 1