Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, April 13, 2001

Women in the "Talking With ..." segments seem to develop
a special relationship with a favorite object. Here, Annie
MacLachlan raises her duster in "Scraps," one of the
11 slice-of-life vignettes in the Yellow Brick
Studio presentation.

Identity crises

Mystery adds to eccentric
whirl of humor and regret

By Scott Vogel

Jane Martin is known as a recluse, which may -- may -- explain why the playwright didn't attend a recent ceremony given in her honor by the American Theatre Critics Association. This covey of poison pens gave "Anton in Show Business" its Best New Play award, yet another accolade for Martin, who in the past has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and is known as something of an expert diviner of the female psyche.

Genius has its own reasons, of course, and many great scribes of the past -- Salinger and Hemingway among them -- have successfully managed to withdraw from modern life without provoking a public outcry. But Martin's seclusion is receiving much scrutiny, particularly of late, by theater journalists and others who maintain that this quintessential women's writer is in fact a man.

"I think pretty much everyone is convinced that Jane Martin is Jon Jory," said David Schaeffer, who directed "Talking With ...," a 1982 play by Martin that opened last night at the Yellow Brick Studio in Kakaako.

Well known within the theater world if not outside it, Jory was head of one of the most prestigious regional companies in America, the Actors Theatre of Louisville, until his departure last year for an academic post at the University of Washington.

Though Jory obviously is quite intimate with Martin -- he directed the world premieres of nearly all of Martin's plays -- he has offered precious little information about the writer. No photo of Martin has ever appeared in a theater program, and very few details of her life have ever emerged.

Jory has never outright denied that Martin is a pseudonym; still, the mystery continues more than 20 years after the first Martin play premiered at the Actors Theatre. But even as critics remain divided on the issue of whether a man could have authored these works, Schaeffer seems to have made up his mind.

"It looks like it was written by a man, after all," Schaeffer said, speaking of "Talking With ...," a collection of 11 monologues for women which is being performed by six members of the Actor's Group.

Alternately rueful and screamingly funny, each five-minute vignette offers a snapshot of a woman whose eccentricities are exceeded only by her ability to cope. There's a bored housewife who finds that dressing up as a minor character in the "Wizard of Oz" makes vacuuming less tedious ("I went down one night to a gay bar, and they waived the cover charge"). And Lurlene, a bronco-riding country gal who's becoming increasingly disillusioned with the corporate domination of rodeo. There's Anna Mae, an elderly woman whose fascination with McDonald's induces an evangelical fanaticism ("I've seen a man healed by a Big Mac"). And April, Ohio's best baton twirler before a freak riding accident leaves her to ruminate on the metaphysics of twirling.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, each woman shares a special relationship with an object in her world. This gave actress Anne Marie an idea, one she shared with the cast and director during a recent rehearsal.

"I'm thinking phallic, I'm thinking Freudian," said Marie from the small stage of the Yellow Brick. And it's certainly true that vacuum cleaners, snakes, batons and even french fries figure prominently in the action of certain monologues. Marie encouraged her fellow actresses to "play with" the play's phallic possibilities, a suggestion that Schaeffer greeted with laughter and approval.

Drastic measures, perhaps. But then again, these are drastic women, peculiar creatures whose ever-shifting personae make them difficult acting assignments. Whether attempting to recapture a lost innocence or evincing a desire for eternity and transcendence in a world of fast-food crassness, the women of "Talking" are continually in the process of becoming someone else. Not unlike -- perhaps -- their play's author, who seems to crave both notoriety and anonymity at once.

"Talking With ..."

On stage: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays to Sundays, through April 29
Place: Yellow Brick Studio, 625 Keawe St.
Call: 591-7999
Cost: $10

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