February 21, 2007

Uncommonly Funny

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The Department of Theatre, Film and Dance is currently delighting audiences with its production of Wendy Wasserstein’s Uncommon Women and Others at the Schwartz Center. Directed by Megan Shea, this lighthearted portrayal of the lives of five graduates of Mount Holyoke College finds more than one sympathetic ear within the audience. Stuck at the point of transition between their senior year and the unknown ‘real’ world after graduation, the exceptionally bright and ambitious students face uncertain choices and deal with self-doubt.

Amid laughs, intimate heart-to-heart conversations and junk food, both the uncommon women and the audience revel in the fun and excitement found only in the companionship of close friends. The clever and comical dialogue is side-splittingly funny and is one of the most impressive aspects of Wendy Wasserstein’s play.

Uncommon Women opens on a scene of a restaurant, in which we meet the successful Justice Department lawyer Kate (Gia Crovatin). One by one, we are introduced to the happily married Samantha (Ariel Reid), the still indecisive Holly (Blanca Hernandez), the insurance seminar hostess Muffet (Anya Degenshein) and the vivacious writer Rita (Ashley Adams). The women exude confidence in themselves and their life choices as young professionals, dedicated wives or creative artists. We find ourselves at a Sex and the City-esque restaurant scene in which the friends exchange candid gossip about who got fat, who was married to whom and the status of their sex lives.

When the scene flashes back to six years prior, the early 1970s, the audience is completely immersed into the atmosphere of propriety, dignity and tradition befitting Mount Holyoke’s self-professed dedication to shaping young women for work as leaders in the community. The play itself pokes fun at the moralizing aim of the institution, with the female students engaging in liberal sexual activity, crude language and other types of unladylike behavior.

The epitome of the morally upright and ever dutiful housemother is satirized by the character of Mrs. Plumm (Carolyn Goelzer), whose affectations and odd quirks continually entertain the audience.

Throughout the play, the women question conventional gender roles. While the college’s stated aim is to prepare women for the obstacles ahead, the implicit understanding is that the women will be equipped to deal with the challenges of being good wives and mothers.

Though the students learn “Women’s History,” they are also offered courses in “Marriage and Family.” The eccentric Rita, a hilarious comic figure, bemoans not being born with a penis and rails against the phallic nature of everything around her. In a desire to liberate herself as a woman, Rita rushes among the girls to triumphantly shout that she’s “tasted her own menstrual blood.”

Uncommon Women is incredibly engaging, with its lively cast and witty banter. The audience both laughs and sympathizes with the everyday dramas of college life. The women deal with the college experiences and relationship dilemmas that are still applicable to university life today. Muffet has a plethora of “gentlemen callers,” Holly agonizes over her inability to telephone her crush and Leilah (Barrie Kreinik) suffers under the shadow of her overachieving friend Kate.

The representation of the women gathering around snacks, playing music and conversing about any range of topics in their dorm room is exactly what one sees when walking through the hallways of any dormitory on campus.

Though confronted with the uncertain future after graduation that every college senior faces, these uniquely intelligent women eventually relinquish their worries of what the future holds and remind us that these last few moments of college are precious. The chance to be surrounded by the close-knit friendships of college has a diminished role in the real world.

Uncommon Women serves as a reminder to not take ourselves quite so seriously. Instead, we can find thrills in the unexpected and the endless possibilities of the future. Even though we may be frightened of the unknown, Uncommon Women entreats us to take pride in ourselves as “untapped natural resources” of the world and to rally forth, always with a sense of humor.

Uncommon Women and Others is being performed through Feb. 24, and the Schwartz Center is hosting a symposium on Wendy Wasserstein’s work this weekend.