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Carolyn McCormick and Sabrina Le Beauf in EVE-olution
(Photo © Richard Termine)
There are some artifacts so much of their time that when they're examined centuries hence, anthropologists can attach an exact date to their creation. EVE-olution, in which wives-and-mothers Alison (Carolyn McCormick) and Liza (Sabrina Le Beauf) describe their marriages and child-rearing in extended detail, is such an object. It's clear from all the talk about post-feminism career choices, mental stress, Paxil, breast pumps in the office, body image, sexuality, and more that the play by Hilary Illick and Jennifer Krier isn't taking place 20 years ago or 20 years on but right now -- or, at least, within the past several years.

In a piece that the promotional materials describe as autobiographical, the women don't seem to have written what they know so much as dictated their experiences into a tape recorder and then spruced it up with a sprig of theatrical touches. It's as if they're giving anecdotal testimony for a commissioned study on the problems that middle-class women in 2004 face when juggling a career, parenting, and their understanding but equally busy spouses. It's the sort of research that could result in a pop-sociology tome called Can Women Who Do It All Really Get It All Done?

The Illick-Krier piece registers less as a play than as two earnest, intelligent homebodies bearing witness about bearing and rearing children. There's no denying that just about everything mentioned in the intermissionless work is recognizable. As Alison and Liza report on their decisions to have children, their insistence on maintaining professional duties, their realization that something has to give and their acceptance of a lopsided division of parenting labor, they may even lend support to the argument that, no matter how much society changes, women will always shoulder most of the household obligations.

The EVE-olution stories are vouchsafed in sections carrying projected titles like "Garden of Motherhood" and "And Along Comes Homo Erectus." Alison, herself an anthropologist specializing in Indonesia, tries to work a full professorship at Cornell with husband Leo's Manhattan post but eventually goes on sabbatical and subsequently quits entirely to raise one, two, three kids. Along the way, she finds her sexual desire for the man to whom she's hitched waning and her lust for an architect who's redoing her house waxing. Liza, having won awards for her short stories, discovers that she's less inclined to compose fiction as first one daughter, then a second, then twins are delivered by nothing resembling a stork. She never resents spouse Philippe's pursuit of his documentary filmmaking endeavors but succumbs to near catatonia at one juncture and at another escapes the house to hide from her obstreperous offspring behind a bush. (These recollections have a direct stage descendent in the suburban character Lyn that Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner imagined for the more satirical Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.")

Alison and Liza are alike in that their marriages remain intact and are, in fact, never severely threatened. They both continue to love husbands who sound like reasonable men behaving as most men do in unreasonable situations -- often obtusely, sometimes sensitively. The women are turn-of-the-millennium hausfrau who dress well enough (in Jenny Mannis's mix-and-match casual costumes) never to become frowsy. Their appeal to patrons like themselves was evident at the matinee I attended; most of the laughter of recognition was from the distaff side, while the middle-class men (husbands? dates? friends?) watched attentively but laughed aloud only infrequently. Incidentally, lower-class women might find Alison's and Liza's plights less involving, which is something Liza understands. In one of her reveries, she remarks of someone she's interviewed for a freelance piece, "She lives in the projects in the Bronx and holds down two jobs... Here I am having a hard night...and I have so many resources...How is Harriet managing?"

The women begin their copious reminiscences at separate desks, a setup that made my heart sink. Desks facing an audience are usually a recipe for dramatic inertia, but director Carolyn Cantor and set designer David Korins have a surprise up their collective sleeve. After the two witnesses to wifedom and motherhood have circled the desks a few times and Cantor has done what she can to keep stasis at bay, a show curtain behind the desks rises to reveal a bright canary yellow nursery. Here, Alison and Liza continue their ruminations -- still without relating to one another until the play's final moments. It's a nice try at livening up the proceedings and it even operates as a metaphor for women being immured in their children's world, but it doesn't really goose the theatrics.

That extremely necessary goose is provided by Carolyn McCormick and Sabrina Le Beauf, who do the naturalistic acting thing to a fare-thee-well. McCormick wears her shoulder-length blonde hair loose and does a lot of pushing it into place whereas Le Beauf's black tresses are pulled sleekly back, leaving her hands free. Both women are similarly magnanimous with expressions and gestures that convey hope, frustration, intelligence, worry, relief, anger, longing, satisfaction -- often all of the above simultaneously. Like the authors, McCormick and Le Beauf are interested in women's truths. This is evident in EVE-olution, even if the structure of the piece could be improved.

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