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Alice Vaughn in Down South
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
"I've got a lot to do today; I'm preparing for a nuclear holocaust." This is what '60s housewife Jennifer Barnes (Alice Vaughn) says at the top of Doug Field's delightful new play Down South set during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Almost immediately, and without much ado, Field's play becomes one of sexual innuendo and outrageous behavior the likes of which would make Christopher Durang blush.

This is Field's off-Broadway debut (he currently has on the boards in L.A. a little item called C-Cup). Down South has positively lit up Greenwich Village, reminding us just how outrageous things used to be south of 14th Street.

Plot wise, the play is pure kitsch. The small town of Erie, Pennsylvania where mild-mannered Jennifer lives with her sensible, handsome husband Bob (Anthony De Santis), is in the grip of impending doom and gloom. Poor, frightened Jennifer, between sorting canned goods and anticipating the nuclear fallout, drifts over the brink as she comes to grips with a newfound sexuality symbolized by Fidel Castro's big, long, dangerous looking missiles--instruments of war that are determined to make communist slaves of poor housewives like Jennifer.

Empowered by her rights as a wife and pleasure-seeker, Jennifer demands that Bob bring her to sexual fulfillment with a visit "down south." Bob refuses and insists that Jennifer pay a visit to neighbor Cheryl Undulato (Erin McLaughlin), a hot Italian mama known for having mastered the two-fingered exercise through which a woman might alternatively achieve Nirvana. As one would expect, Cheryl is more that happy to teach Jennifer some new tricks. Add to this funny bunch Cheryl's overly-endowed husband Eddie (Dean Fortunato) and nerdy neighbors the Stevenses, Stephen (David Bicha) and Sue (Audrey Rapoport); she wears the glasses, he's the effeminate one.

Field's crazy characters soon find themselves in a sexual frenzy, even without the use of designer drugs as an aphrodisiac. "I cooked, I cleaned, I climaxed," Jennifer declares as she goes about her wifely duties. A baked Alaska serves as the basis for '60s satire as Jennifer offers the classic Betty Crocker dessert with "a soft meringue and a stiff ice cream center" to her hot-blooded neighbors. During after dinner drinks, Sue's Stephen pines for Bob while Jennifer is off with Cheryl fine tuning Jennifer's newfound sense of self love. "Cocktails at seven, dinner at eight, masturbation at nine!" declares Jennifer.

Down South's set designer, John McDermott, proves that scenery can almost steal a show. Using a palette of pink, green, turquoise, yellow, aqua, and orange, he brings all of the plastic glory of the early '60s to noisy life, right down to the bleached-wood furniture and the owl art. Paule Doss' costumes and Patricia Peek's hair designs are also precious, helping to make the production a wonderland of nostalgia.

The show is only 70 minutes long, and is performed without an intermission. If there are too many blackouts between its short scenes, those brief moments of down time do offer respite from the absurd antics just finished and those that are about to begin. Rick Sparks' direction is crisp and clean.

If you don't embarrass easily, Down South may be your cup of tea. On the other hand, if you are a prude, you may need this show more than any of us.

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