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Preview: Valley Players' 'Ladies' Briefs' examines women's experiences in 10 short plays

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Of all the pandemic casualties, I’m encouraged by the fact that Valley Players has survived. They have emerged with a powerful new show of 10 one-act plays that plumb the depths of the feminine experience, titled "Ladies' Briefs."

"Briefs" because of the brevity of the plays, but also because the show puts forth the unseen aspects of being a modern woman.

Valley Players’ mission is to find and produce plays that feature women over 40. It’s a refreshing premise that provides a means of expression to a demographic historically silenced. And, given how underrepresented these stories are, such a premise produces some very moving theater.

The plays were chosen from those that came in from a national call for submission. None of them have been performed before.

The artistic directors at this theater company do not shy away from hard-hitting drama, and this show is no exception. There is a balance though: there are five comedies and five dramas, which alternate, beginning with something serious, and ending on a happy note.

One of the more hilarious offerings is “The Matter with Family” by Amy Tofte. The premise is that a woman is concerned about her sister’s having an affair with a married man, so she hires an “extraction” service to pull her out of bed, literally, it seems, in flagrante delicto.

In the getaway car, the merits of an affair are debated. On one side is finally having an ecstatic sex life, and on the other, the inevitable truth is that that man will never leave his wife.

Another pleasure is “Growing Old withOUT Grace,” written by Napa Valley playwright Christina Julian. It is about three ladies getting together for lunch at a restaurant on one of their 50th birthdays. June Alane Reif plays a newly half-century-old, pandemic scarred and sanitation-obsessed woman convinced that that 50 is the end of her life. She wears rubber gloves and wipes everything on the table down with alcohol. She has trouble ordering and the millennial waitress is too preoccupied with her phone to notice they are ready to order. A situation pointed out by the ladies with, satisfyingly, very little nuance.

One of the most innovative plays is “Expectations” by Jennifer O’Grady. In it, Charles Dickens and his wife, Kate Dickens, address the audience to explain the circumstances of their divorce — or his abandonment of her for a younger woman after she gave him many children.

The play is brilliant because neither character addresses the other. They both only talk to the audience. They each tell their own side of the story of their break-up. What Dickens says about their split is rife with the misogyny and male superiority one would expect from a man who epitomizes a society that views women as the chattel of their husband. Mrs. Dickens is helpless and mystified that men could be so clueless.

My favorite play, "Meat Like Me" by Yael Haskal, was perhaps the most avant-garde. It was composed of three women sitting side by side, with a huge knitted scarf spread over their laps.

Stage right was a young woman, with a ball of yarn and knitting needles in her lap, who seemed to be from a lower economic status; in the middle was a middle-aged career woman, who has the scarf draped over her legs, and stage left was a woman whose first romance was in the 1950s, and she holds the end of the scarf. The scarf is the arc of their lives.

Each character had a monologue where she detailed interaction with a man. The oldest concerned the embarrassment around a missed kiss in a movie theater. The middle woman related an ideological battle over the relevance of a coffee maker, and the youngest described a sexual encounter that, unsurprisingly, left her feeling cold and used.

I won’t give away anything more, except to say that even in the dress rehearsal, there was transfixing magic in the theater. These stories were real, authentic, believable, touching, and worthy of much more than 10 minutes in a variety show.

I have long bemoaned the small audiences at Valley Players’ shows. The experience deserves more recognition. And, it’s amazing that entertainment so sophisticated is not only shown in the Napa Valley but also produced by the people in the Napa Valley.

Every woman, young or old, should see this show. They would have their own experience validated. And, any man would do well to see this show, because understanding its insights will make him more compassionate and understanding.

The show will run for two weekends with performances on Nov. 5, 6, 12 and 13 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 7 and 14 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the door or at luckypennynapa.com.

Alcohol consumption increased by 323% for moms with kids under five years old at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is according to a study conducted by RTI International to analyze the pandemic’s effects on American’s drinking habits. Overall, alcohol consumption in the US was 39% higher in November 2020 than in February 2020. Between February and April 2020, binge drinking increased by 26%. It then increased by 30% between February and November 2020. It was found that between April and November 2020, more women exceeded the recommended drinking limits than men. Increases in alcohol consumption have been associated with natural disasters and other large-scale events that induce stress and anxiety, and a pandemic certainly fits that description, Carolina Barbosa, a health economist at RTI.

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