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That Pretty Pretty or The Rape Play

Sheila Callaghan's new play about misogyny in pop culture quickly grows tedious.

Lisa Joyce, Joseph Gomez, and Danielle Slavick
in That Pretty Pretty
(© Sandra Coudert)
With That Pretty Pretty or The Rape Play, currently at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, playwright Sheila Callaghan takes aim at some of the misogyny in pop culture by skewering a male screenwriter with an adolescent view of women. Unfortunately, the skewering amounts to glib mockery and the play, lacking fresh substantive social critique, quickly becomes tedious.

The play opens with a scene in a generic hotel room where two aggressive, radical women (Lisa Joyce and Danielle Slavic) have lured a man for sex and violence. We quickly learn that the gun-totin' gals -- who know their way around a strip pole -- are on a gruesome crime spree, avenging the death of a woman who died at an abortion clinic at the hands of right-to-lifers. The scene is ugly and empty, but by design: it's quickly clear that it's sprung from the mind of a male screenwriter (Greg Keller) as he labors under the delusion that he's writing a meaningful, truthful movie with feminist characters.

The screenwriter and his buddy (Joseph Gomez) are never depicted as anything other than stupid and juvenile. Although the play's most interesting observation -- that some of the media's male fantasies about women are perpetrated because men imagine women to be men but in female bodies -- comes later in the play, we ultimately don't learn anything by the end of the play's 90 minutes that hasn't been driven home with sledgehammer bluntness in the first 15.

If the play seems driven by righteous anger, it hasn't been focused for maximum effectiveness. Callaghan's fight-fire-with-fire strategy is severely limiting to begin with, since there are only so many appropriate audience reactions to vulgarities. And it is further complicated by a needlessly messy mash-up structure that isn't especially clarified by Kip Fagan's direction. The play's most powerful scene, a mostly pantomimed absurdist parody at a dining table where the men dominate the women, doesn't seem to belong to the world of the play: the insensitive screenwriter wouldn't imagine it, as its arty style is too sophisticated for him, and the scene exhibits an empathy for the women's suffering that is beyond his understanding.

The scene also feels dated, like a mimed variant on the anti-suburban themes that were popular four decades ago. Indeed, were it not for references to the war and to blogs the play -- which occasionally features 1980s hair-band rock -- might seem to have been dusted off from 20 years ago. It's especially disappointing that Callaghan introduces the character of Jane Fonda (played by Annie McNamara) and then restricts her to the sexless cheerleader mode of her workout videos.