Tracy Young’s dark comic paean to women and their bodies, a hit in the group’s 1992-93 season here, returns to the new Actors’ Gang space with pointed, poignant verve.
The play weaves modern mores with Victorian morals as Garnet “Darby” Poindexter (Kate Mulligan) tries to escape her crumbling marriage and dysfunctional family by journeying into the Victorian era and witnessing the travails of her neurasthenic great-grandmother, Lilymoist Teagarden (Cari Dean Whittemore).
Darby has a lot to escape, including mother Zelda (Patti Tippo), a former supermodel who is aging with all the grace of Norma Desmond, and father Bob (Daniel Parker), who has taken to wearing dresses, ostensibly to promote his new line of corporate unisex clothing.
Darby’s two sisters are no bargain either. Corky (Tricia Parks) is a raging agoraphobic who is well past the ninth month of an hysterical pregnancy, while Taylor (Evie Peck), bulimic and buxom, aspires to inherit the mother’s crown as family fashion queen.
Darby bursts out of this family circus into the perils of Victorian England, where the crusading Lydia Tripplehorn (Molly Bryant) hands out condoms on the street corners.
Tripplehorn’s campaign soon leads to a battle with the staid medical establishment, churning up debates over abortion, menstruation, masturbation, corsets, cosmetics and plastic surgery.
After a slow beginning, the play picks up its pace, joyfully racing back and forth through time and theme.
The show is also sprinkled with memorable musical numbers, including Taylor’s ode to teenage life, “My Pubes Stick Out”; the Cosmo reader’s lament, “How I Differ From Claudia Schiffer”; the rollicking “Tripplehorn March” and Darby’s moving ode to her child who will never be born, “Little Bird.”
Performances are terrific and solidly grounded in both the broad comedy and deeper resonances of the play.
Mulligan provides a strong emotional core to the story, while Bryant, Parker, Marks, Peck, Tippo and Whittemore display fine comic talents and an emotional range for their characters.
V.J. Foster does riotous turns as Heathcliff and an anti-abortion protester. Kyle Gass is excellent in multiple roles, but especially as a smooth, smarmy cosmetic salesman. Laurel Ollstein is convincing as the tortured plastic surgeon.
Direction, production and musical elements are solid and straightforward. But the strength of the show is the Actors’ Gang ensemble, which developed the play in workshop and which continues to make a unique contribution to Los Angeles theater in its new venue.