Southern Comforts

Heat: Lorenzo Pisoni is a poet, JoBeth Williams his novelist lover, in Last Dance.Photo: Joan Marcus

Marsha Norman wrote two terrific plays in her day, but it has been downhill in the two decades since ’night, Mother, with Last Dance no exception. Four people from Savannah are carrying on in the south of France: Charlotte is a prolific and successful middle-aged novelist, still alluring; her macho young lover, Cab, is a poet whom she is trying to steer toward Georgeanne, another young poet, who secretly adores him. Randall is a middle-aged professor of herpetology who lives for sex and for converting his friend Charlotte into something closer, but is also perfectly willing to service Georgeanne, should she desire it.

The characters have as many dimensions as playing cards, and are shuffled and reshuffled in a game that isn’t worth the candle. In the end, Georgeanne has a long soliloquy about what happened to everyone afterward, fiction even less convincing than the drama and poetry preceding it. Exuding bonhomie, David Rasche’s cynical roué comes off best, though we believe in his being a herpetologist as little as in Charlotte’s novelistic career, unless it’s in Harlequin romances. Still less do we see in Cab a poet and budding architect. At least Lorenzo Pisoni, who plays him, would shine as a ladies’ gym instructor. JoBeth Williams, her looks barely diminished by age, tries to make something out of Charlotte. As Georgeanne, Heather Goldenhersh talks and acts with a cloying cutesiness that verges on the cretinous. It is astounding that Lynne Meadow, the director, let her get away with it.

Somewhere between sophomoric and smart-ass is the locus of Douglas Carter Beane’s dramaturgy in Mondo Drama at his Drama Dept., the group he is doing his best to discredit. Although aficionados of medium-high camp appear to groove on Carter Beane’s banalities and analities, his wit is consistently subaltern, and his invention, if not strictly, then loosely, from hunger.

We get here a spoof of sixties Italian shockumentaries, the titillating Mondo Cane and its dreary progeny. They recorded outlandish human activities from around the world, some genuine, some apparently staged. Carter Beane gives us three young women in a run-down movie theater enacting dilapidated parodies of these films with a jokiness just above the high-school, but not quite up to the college level. In one episode, perky American chicks are being comically sold into white slavery in an Arab country; in another, a trio of African maidens—cleverly named Dunka Dunka, Kooka Pooka, and Beepa Booba—discuss methods of inducing fertility, which include covering themselves completely with water-buffalo manure, attaching fruit bats to their nipples, and screaming “like the Celine Dion.”

No less raucously funny are the Amsterdam prostitutes Hilga, Helga, and Hulga, who have problems keeping their identities apart; also the southern female bigots at a biennial meeting of the Old White Men’s Women’s Auxiliary. They concoct derogatory terms “for every race, color, religion, sex, and sexual orientation,” save for the old white men whose trophy wives they are. Not even the giant sea turtles of the Galapagos, facing extinction, are spared the sub-pinprick mosquito bites of Carter Beane’s wit. Among the three hapless performers, Siobhán Mahoney emerges least scathed, followed by Miriam Shor. Caroline Rhea, however, is fully as fatly fatuous as on her TV talk show. Christopher Ashley was not too ashamed to direct. The author should cover his face in shame with buffalo manure; fruit bats on the nipples are optional.

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Last Dance
New play by Marsha Norman, staged by Lynne Meadow.

Mondo Drama
New play by Douglas Carter Beane, staged by Christopher Ashley.

Southern Comforts