I Am Woman, Hear Me Laugh 

A comic look at the past forty years of the women's movement.

As I write, the clock is ticking down to The Big Day. The caterer knows how many chickens to slaughter, and the deejay knows he's not getting paid if I hear one damn note of the Macarena.

A wedding is a great reminder of power and its limitations. I can write the vows that dictate how we're going to treat each other every day from here on out (yeah, right). I can squeeze Christianity and Judaism into a twenty-minute ceremony. But I can't look bad while I'm doing it. A bride could bitch-slap the caterer, and everyone would smile as long as she looked fresh and dewy while doing it.

Linda Sargent knows what I'm saying, and she examines the power of appearance over action in the play I Read About My Death in Vogue Magazine. A comic look at the past forty years of the women's movement, the piece is part of Red Hen feminist theater's staged reading series, "Feminism Is Funny."

The play focuses on "five women who represent different stereotypical career paths — a writer, an anti-imperialist, a women's studies professor, an ecologist, and a single mother/construction worker."

Equally important in the play are portrayals of the media and the fashion world, which conspire to define these women more adamantly than they can define themselves. The sixties woman might have been talkin' revolution, but Sargent insists the media were more concerned with the "riot of hair" and "militant makeup" she wore to the gas raids and sit-ins.

Sargent's is one of three plays being staged for "Red Hen Rehearsals," an annual series that emphasizes content over production values. Director Harriett Logan says, "Our chief objective is to stage a bunch of plays quickly and inexpensively, so we can create as much exposure as possible."

Also on the docket are Sex, a play written by Mae West in 1926 and directed by Jeffrey Allen, and Battered on Broadway, written by Caroline Gage and directed by Karen Gygli.

Logan insists that "despite its title, Sex really isn't that risqué." As much a play about class as about feminist issues, Sex is the story of a working girl (who was played by West in the original) looking for financial stability.

Sex caused a stir when it played in the '20s. Logan says, "People tried to close it down, and it certainly began (West's) reputation as a scandalous woman." It was, naturally, a big success.

The plot involves a blackmailing scheme that pits our lovable whore against a rich Connecticut housewife looking for thrills. But the play's appeal is its humor, Logan says. It's slapstick, but "the elements of the play that were so shocking back in '26 are also really funny, because we understand now that it's so very silly."

Battered on Broadway brings together the heroines of the heyday of American musical theater — Sally Bowles, Eliza Dolittle, et al. — to plan a fund raiser for a battered women's shelter. Once the apple-cheeked darlings of a misogynist genre, these aging characters now share stories of abuse and help women like themselves.

The women in Battered cope with their painful pasts in various ways. Some have moved on, while others quietly seek revenge. And then there's Li'l Orphan Annie. "She's been emotionally battered and abused by Daddy Warbucks, and she's very vocal and strident about it," Logan says. When she calls a press conference, the others take issue with her noisy tactics. Logan admits that "it sounds a bit macabre, but there's humor when you have such different strategies clashing." — Joan Smith/Friedman

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