Jessica Graham and Amanda Schoonoverin Scab
Jessica Graham and Amanda Schoonover
in Scab
Throughout the 20th century, the response of male critics to the work of female playwrights has ranged from the misguided to the reprehensible. Unable to relate to often intensely personal slice-of-life dramas, critics dismiss them as narrow and trivial, lacking the universality of the plays written by men. That reception has contributed to the marginalization of women in theater, a fate that one can only hope will not be suffered by Sheila Callaghan, the young author of Scab.

Both a coming-of-age love story and a spiritual awakening, Scab focuses on two Grad School roommates from very different backgrounds. Wandering in to their small apartment with her James Taylor tapes, video camera, and plastic Virgin Mary, Christa is the very picture of a well-adjusted Suburbanite. Nicely played by Jessica Graham in this Eternal Spiral Project production, she is the polar opposite of Anima (the equally effective Amanda Schoonover), a black-clad theater major who spends an inordinate amount of time curled up on the floor in "the throes of a massive emotional calamity."

For all of their outward differences, the women are both outsiders standing hesitantly at the crossroads of their lives. The piece is beautifully written by Callaghan, whose ear for natural dialogue is superb, and the ESP production is excellent in capturing the play's duality. As Christa and Anima bond against the school's elite, represented by a ridiculously pretentious chorus of snobby students, the author combines elements of Greek Tragedy, absurdism, surreal comedy, and realistic drama to examine the complexities of identity. Intertwining painfully detailed scenes of intimacy with extravagant dream sequences featuring a foul-mouthed Virgin Mary and a pair of black-winged angels, Callaghan shows us that the women's path to self-realization is alternately difficult and joyous.

In this production, dynamically staged by Deborah Block with a huge assist from Doug Smullens' interactive video design, identity is depicted as ever-changing and fluid: roles are reversed, conventional concepts of femininity and masculinity are rejected, the line between homosexuality and heterosexuality is blurred, friendships are broken and restored, loyalties are betrayed. With fine support from Ed Miller as the despicable womanizer Alan, Graham and Schoonover don't so much portray the characters as probe them, an effect that vitalizes the women while lending the show a sense of exploration and discovery.

Not every scene works, but when the production's many elements come together -- as they do in the moment of the roommates' first kiss -- the effect is poignant and disturbing. Unlike so many plays that show a wound as something that must be allowed to heal, Scab picks away furiously at the sores that cover a far more profound and deeper injury. For Christa, and especially for Anima, the scab must be opened for the mending to begin.