Women and Wallace, Jonathan Marc Sherman's '80s dark comedy about the genesis of male insecurity and gender identity, has long since been a staple of theater company's across the nation seeking works that are a little more quirky and risqué. Full disclosure: I once played Wallace in my high school's "fall drama", and my college years at NYU saw two productions done. There is a zephyr in the air that lets me know that there are plans for some intrepid theatre in Helena, Montana, to stage a production. But, despite its proliferation, Women and Wallace still retains its anonymity, known only to the theatrical hipster elite.
The thing that is refreshing about Wallace's popularity is that it is a very good play. One reasons is that the character of Wallace can really showcase the talents of a young actor who can play incredulous well--and who doesn't like incredulous? He's a whimsical character that also requires an actor to play several difficult ages: an eight year old, an adolescent, and a young adult. What's charming about Wallace is that he has been so effected by early childhood traumas (his mother commits suicide in their kitchen immediately after she hands him his packed lunch and puts him on the bus), that he has developed a gross indifference to the world, while still retaining a proclivity towards emotional outbursts and a dysfunctional romantic life. It can be a lot of fun.
Barefoot Theatre Productions are the latest producers to enter the Women and Wallace foray. Their Wallace (Francisco Solorzano) has a nice balance between innocence and deadpan sarcasm. Wallace loves his mommy; in fact he loves a lot of things. The play opens with a vignette of Wallace throwing a tomato at a would-be girlfriend, and then telling her he loves her. And he's always bursting: "I love you mommy," "I love the second grade," and then after his mother's death, "I think I love you Victoria," "I think I love you Nina." His love becomes uncertain just as quick as he can say "women desert."
Clearly Wallace has issues with his mother's unhappiness and abandonment. He constantly equates her with Sylvia Plath ("My Mother was like Sylvia Plath without a publishing contract") and also blames her for his inability to understand women. The obvious Oedipus complex parallels are not disguised. In fact, they are tackled head-on: he dreams sexually about his mother, and claims he lost his virginity to her because when he was born, his "thing" was technically inside hers.
Solorzano does have some trouble differentiating between Wallace at different ages, playing each as if Kevin Arnold of "The Wonder Years" fused with his older self's voice-over, but is extremely competent in all other aspects of the production. Every time the audience zooms in on Wallace, he is at a seminal moment with another female. We experience his first kiss (with Victoria, played wonderfully spastic by Melissa Wilder), his first date, and his first "time", all of which end like a train wreck. It isn't until he meets Nina (played sweetly by Sharon Freedman) that he finally comes to terms with the fact that just because his mother abandoned him, that doesn't mean that all women will.
Overall, directors Nicole Haran and Michael LoPorto keep the constantly changing worlds tightly executed and completely believable, knowing that doing too much would only muddle things. Women and Wallace is playing through March 16th at the 78th Street Theatre Lab. If Barefoot Theatre Productions continue to choose good works that are within their capabilities to mount, we should be hearing more from them in the future.