Valley Players’ “Women in Jeopardy” is a blast. Wendy MacLeod’s play is an estrogen bomb of hilarity, which combined with Rhonda Bowen’s amazing sets, makes for a jolly afternoon of live theater. This is a play for your girlfriends, your book club, your yoga buddies, or any of the ladies with whom you habitually drink wine. God knows that actors drink plenty of it, too.
Valley Players’ directive, to find plays for women over 40, is satisfied with this play, to a degree that is unlikely to be surpassed. Furthermore, from a company who is at its best when it’s doing hard-hitting, serious drama, “Women in Jeopardy” is a welcome bit of frenetic craziness so needed in these trying times.
Liz, Jo and Mary, played by Christina Julian, Loretta Long and June Alane Reif, respectively, are a trio of modern American women who find themselves, at mid-to-late life, single and needing someone to take care of. They do typical modern women things — they’re in book clubs, they compete in the fun run benefiting cervical cancer research, they bake banana coffee cake and listen to NPR. At one point, Trenner, a cougar chasing undersexed snowboarder with a mommy fetish, asks Mary if she has a gun. She replies, “Of course not, we’re Democrats!” They are in the minority in Salt Lake City.
Liz gets involved with Jackson, a creepy dentist played brilliantly by Richard Pallaziol at his most stiff, awkward and, well, creepy. Julian’s Liz is perfectly oblivious to Jackson’s propensity to wear a ski mask or his Lurch-like manner that should, in reality, scare her away. It seems that in Salt Lake City, where the play takes place, any man who is still unmarried and at least doesn’t know if he’s gay, will be entertained. The key is that when non-Mormon men are going to be at a premium, even the dorkiest are to be appreciated.
The specter of motherhood infiltrates every aspect of the show. Mary and Jo, no longer having children to care for, channel their maternal concern onto Liz and the supposed possibility that Jackson is the serial killer who recently abducted and decapitated a dental hygienist from the parking lot of the office where she works. It doesn’t help that Jackson is the dentist who owns that office.
Mary and Jo don’t confront Liz with their suspicions to prevent her from getting her feelings hurt. Instead, they go through Rube Goldberg-like machinations to investigate Jackson, without Liz knowing about it. This leads Mary to meet Sergeant Sponsüllar, also played by Pallaziol — his resemblance to Jackson is part of the plot of the play — with whom she flirts with at every opportunity.
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I had a hard time leaving my gonads at the door, but that is what made it interesting. Mary, Jo and Liz analyze the hell out of their situation, and pussy foot around the issue, by which I, in my blatant, self-aware misogyny, was annoyed. Were the roles reversed, however, and it was three men, one of whom was dating a woman suspected of being a serial killer, there would be no play because the men would think it was hot, and egg him on, not report the woman to the police.
As the curtain came up on the second act, it became clear that this bowl of popcorn of a play is actually an example of how women have taken a problem and transcended it. Violence against women, whether it be domestic battery, or a serial killer who decapitates women with dental tools, is a serious, real thing that happens in America. Serial killers who focus on women are only the tip of the misogynistic iceberg in society.
This play takes our culture’s propensity of violence toward women and makes it funny. Humor being the indication that an issue has been surpassed. When we can laugh at something, it has been disarmed and we own it. That thing is now amusing, no longer offensive or scary. In writing this play as a comedy, Wendy MacLeod is disarming her sex’s history of violence suffered at the hands of men, showing that women no longer have anything to fear. Or, at least, have a voice that will be heard, respected, and responded to.
The key to this play, and to the perception in the aging women’s role in modern American society is Trenner, the 20-something snowboarder who hits on Mary, his fantasized-about librarian. While this play is written by a woman in 2015, I hope that men in their 20s could begin to look at women in their 50s as sex objects, indulging in a mommy fetish in the same way young gay men are now fetishizing older gay men as daddies.
Finally, there is no better reason to go see this play than to enjoy the brilliance of Rhonda Bowen’s set design. It’s amazing what she does with cardboard and plywood. Pallaziol said that the set should be a two dimensional as the plot, and that was true, except that Bowen used perspective to create a three-dimensional space using completely flat surfaces, and its ingenuity, like the spirit of the play, is anything but superficial.
“Women in Jeopardy” a welcome bit of frenetic craziness needed in trying times