A Review of That Pretty Pretty; or, The Rape Play

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That Pretty Pretty; or, The Rape Play
Theatre Exile at the Christ Church Neighborhood House on 11/19/10

Described as a ‘metaromp,’ That Pretty Pretty; or, The Rape Play is a play-within-a-screenplay-within-a-play (I think). Playwright Sheila Callaghan‘s dark comedy opens with our ex-stripper heroines Agnes and Valerie, clad in fishnets and skin-tight dresses, luring a pro-lifer into a crisply clean hotel, teasing him, then shooting him in the head. The next scene flips around the dynamic, with a pair of dudely Republicans drawing a stripper into their hotel room, electrocuting her a la Guantanamo Bay, then shooting her in the head. Then hacking her up with a machete. Then bashing in her head with a sledgehammer. While the purposefully over-the-top violence is softened through the use of video projections and humor, this play certainly isn’t for the faint of heart.

Despite our supposed allegiance to equality, That Pretty Pretty dissects the oft-overlooked ways in which misogyny and xenophobia are allowed to exist in our society. Set designer Jorge Cousineau created video projections and constructed deceptively clean sets to contain the action and hold the audience members at arms length. The non-linear plotline and verbal re-hashing and mashing are brought to life by stereotypical characters, allowing the audience to stand at a critical distance instead of trying to relate.

Charlotte Ford is spot-on with her comedic timing and awkward physicality as the bulimic Agnes, and Christie Parker alluringly embodies the more confident, bile-spitting Valerie. Jered McLenigan delightfully plays Rodney, the dippy, attention-needy male counterpart to Agnes, while Allen Radway falls somewhat short as Owen, whose attempts at introspection mainly come off as whiney. To provide inspiration to these aggressive, yet misguided, characters is Jane Fonda. While in real life Jane Fonda may represent something of a feminist ideal, That Pretty Pretty mainly references Fonda’s workout video days, which Headlong dancer Amy Smith brings to life with comedic physicality. From potential feminist icon, Jane Fonda is reduced to chattering voice box that reminds the female characters to take abuse “on the chin” with “frankness and dignity.”

For good measure, Callaghan throws in some commentary about the war in the Middle East. While Owen half-heartedly draws the comparison between the war in the Middle East and the war on women’s bodies, the true message seems to lie in how easily, and without any critical thought, society is able to dehumanize women and “terrorists” alike in an attempt to deny both groups of any actual power. Throw in some commentary on technology and graphic rape sequences, That Pretty Pretty boils into complicated, penetrating portrayal of gender relations in our supposedly modern, forward-thinking society- and the picture it paints ain’t all that pretty.

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