One woman show mines humor of sex, politics

`Monogamy' is topical ointment for what ails you

Theater Review

March 13, 2004|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

You do what you can in this life. You work with what there is," concludes one of five characters Karen Gray portrays in The Modified Monogamy Project, her one-woman show about sex and politics.

For Nelson Ruggles, a Republican municipal candidate revealed to be cheating on his wife, working "with what there is" means running on the "pro-adultery ticket." For his mistress, Frederika, it means milking her brief flicker of fame. And for frustrated filmmaker Kip Hartwinkle, it means making a documentary about Frederika as "a woman wronged," at the same time that he's serving as Nelson's media consultant.

In a climate in which political issues are often overshadowed by the attention paid to personalities and personal scandals, Gray offers the satirical suggestion that politicians use their peccadilloes to their advantage.

So, instead of dropping out of the race after scandal threatens to derail his campaign, Nelson launches "The Modified Monogamy Movement," which proclaims that men, like dogs, should be free to stray "from tree to tree." Meanwhile, Frederika is not only planning to star in a documentary titled Deceived by Deception, but she also announces to anyone who'll listen: "This is America, the land of opportunity, and somebody owes me something!"

Gray's subject matter is certainly topical in an election year, and her Lily Tomlin-esque character transformations add zing to this latest offering at the Theatre Project (where she last appeared in 2002 in a show called 11 Ex-Boyfriends Defend Their Actions).

Designer Kent Goetz's set for The Modified Monogamy Project features an American flag and white picket fence (all that's missing from this Americana display is an apple pie). Capping each of the fence's newel posts is a wig stand, and what Gray does with wigs is a comic delight.

In the funniest moments, the wigs become the characters themselves. For a phone conversation between Kip and Frederika, for example, Gray dons a tweed cap to portray Kip and holds the phone up to Frederika's disembodied red wig to suggest her end of the conversation. Later, when Nelson Ruggles' wife, Nedra, pays an unexpected visit to his office, she is portrayed by a disembodied blond wig - an image that's all the funnier when the interlude takes a salacious turn.

Nedra, a woman who emulates Ladybird Johnson and claims most politicians marry above their stations, turns out to be delectably subversive. The show's fifth character, Nedra and Nelson's oddly disturbed 9-year-old daughter, however, brings a note of poignance to the proceedings, serving as a sad reminder of the impact that the misbehavior of adults can have on their children.

Gray has come up with some witty soundbites ("Sex accusations are the terrorist bomb of politics," Nelson says at one point). And under Clair Myers' direction, the way this solo actress portrays interacting characters is a joy to behold.

The show isn't flawless. A section, for instance, in which filmmaker Kip re-enacts his firing from Ken Burns' Civil War series goes on too long. But for the most part, The Modified Monogamy Project is a winning ticket.

Theater

What: The Modified Monogamy Project

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through March 21

Tickets: $16

Call: 410-752-8558

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