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Terrific trio

An emotional gamut at Perishable

by Bill Rodriguez

THE 9TH ANNUAL WOMEN'S PLAYWRITING FESTIVAL. With plays by Nehassaiu deGannes, Christine Evans, Janet Kenney. Directed by Peter Wallace, Vanessa Gilbert, and Mahayana Landownes. At Perishable Theatre through June 20.

It's an especially good year for the Annual Women's Playwriting Festival at Perishable Theatre. With one of these smartly acted and staged gems you'll laugh, with another you'll cry -- if you're not stunned numb -- and with the third you'll do a little of both.

The opener is The Frangipani Door, by Trinity Conservatory's Nehassaiu deGannes. This is a striking work of imagination that finds theatrical ways to heighten the emotional under-layers of every scene. We meet Rachel (Angela Williams) when she is a three-year-old immigrant to Canada from Trinidad (as was the playwright). A "chorus" of three women and one man smoothly morph into passersby and playground friends. This is a milieu where being "weird" is threatening in the best of circumstances, so much more so for a dark-skinned child among white ones. Her house's front door, which her island-accented father (Don Mays) has painted a shocking pink, is an uncertain gift for her, a brown girl with a black father, even though he is a nuclear design engineer. "I'm not black! I'm Canadian!" the child shouts at one point.

The freshness of the writing is matched and amplified by the brisk and creative hand of Peter Wallace, who directs the theater program at the New School University in New York. The story maintains the free-flowing form of the memory play it is, with chorus members echoing or explicating Rachel's thoughts. They shift the free-standing translucent panels of Jeremy Woodward's set design to indicate structures or spaces, aided by Tim Whelan's careful lighting design. By the conclusion, the outline of the young woman's relationship with her father has accumulated detail, and the list of words Rachel is fascinated with at the beginning -- memorabilia, menhir, meningoencephalitis -- makes sense to us as well as to her. The journey is toward clarification, if not to understanding, and an assuring sense of order is restored.

Mothergun is by Christine Evans, who is in Brown's graduate playwriting program. The setting is "a refugee camp between Europe and Hell," in the present, and references to NATO, peacekeeping, and two antagonistic language groups suggest Yugoslavia. The characters are listed only as A, B, C, and D, which universalizes the war setting and dehumanizes the four. Jeffrey Weeter's evocative sound design is unobtrusive and subliminally intensifying.

Their situation is one of peril, of being in hiding rather than taking refuge. They are cut off from safety, and in their dream of escape, Germany takes on the elusiveness and unlikeliness of a rainbow. One soldier (Sean McConaghy) is in charge, largely because a second one (Michael Cappelli) has an injured leg, but also because he speaks the two local languages. A refugee woman (Carol Schlink) mourns her missing children, speaks matter-of-factly about her mother being mutilated by soldiers, and is inured to being raped by these two soldiers.

As appalling as all that is, the most wrenching aspect of the play is a wild child soldier, a tool of the translator, played with the non-stop intensity of a canny whirlwind by Dan Goldrick. Murderously happy, playing with his stick rifle like a lethal air guitar, emitting gun noises like chord riffs, there's a kind of innocence in how purely savage he has been trained by war to be. The character provides theme and coda to a successfully sustained cymbal crash of this short play. It's ascinatingly written and performed.

Needed relief from the edifying horrors of Mothergun is provided by the lighthearted ExtraOrdinaire, by Massachusetts playwright Janet Kenney and directed by Mahayana Landowne. Mark Peckham is the irrepressible middle-aged Joey, who wants to run off to join the circus with his no-nonsense wife Martha, played as understanding but stern by Clare Vadeboncouer. The play is an entreaty-cum-verbal love letter by the child-man to the hair-curlered, bathrobed, slipper-scuffing, and long-suffering wife, the love of his life. A wonderful tension builds as we come to understand that his visual-aids-accompanying pitch at dawn to her may not win her over. The circus represents life itself to him, as does she. Will Joey follow his bliss, even if the tough-minded Martha doesn't follow him? What is the responsibility of creative inspiration, however demented?

The questions that this year's Women's Playwriting Festival brings up are engaging ones, to be sure. Rest assured that no easy answers are provided.

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