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The Female of th Species

The Female of the Species is more deadly than the male,” wrote Rudyard Kipling some 100 years ago. That might well be the theme of Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith’s satire of all things that have fallen into the gender divide over the past 40 years. The comedy is set in the library/living room in the secluded country home of Margot Mason (Annette Bening), a sardonic wit and author of feminist self-help books. (Bening’s take is perfectly competent though narrow in range). Margot struggles to meet an impending deadline for a book she’s barely started, when an interloper named Molly Rivers (Merritt Wever) wanders in through the French doors (Takeshi Kata designed the detailed, realistic set). Based on a real-life incident involving such an intrusion upon author Germaine Greer, and after offering some fake adoration for the famous author, Molly pulls out a pistol and threatens to kill Margot over her sequence of celebrity-motivated, contradictory exegeses that, Molly believes, were responsible for her mother’s suicide. (The despondent woman allegedly clutched a copy of Margot’s The Cerebral Vagina before hurling herself under a moving train.) Enter Margot’s daughter, Tess (a particularly fine Mireille Enos), traumatized by her mother’s decades of neglect and contempt for her daughter’s having “settled” into a married life with a nice if dim-witted hedge-fund investor named Bryan (an endearing turn by David Arquette). (“I love you, Tess. You know I’ve always mounted you on a pedestal.”) A hausfrau in crisis somewhere between despair and oblivion, Tess has no complaint over Molly’s intention to murder her mother. Add to the mix (yes, it’s a very busy day for an author who desires only to be left alone to write) Molly’s macho taxi driver, Frank (Josh Stamberg), furious because Molly stiffed him — because he wouldn’t stop talking about how his wife just left him. Margot’s publisher, Theo (Julian Sands), also shows up to resolve a lingering question of genealogy. (The farce is not intended to hold a mirror to life’s most probable outcomes.) When Frank finally grows a pair and starts ordering Tess around, her eyes light up and her shoulder straps fall. It’s a feminist’s nightmare, as is the entire play. It’s also a comedy of the ilk George Bernard Shaw might have written had he lived another 100 years, though he probably would have left out the gun, which the characters spend most of the play ignoring anyway. Of course, this is a joke about hostage plays; it also reveals how the person holding the gun may not actually possess all the power, especially if there’s enough wit from the playwright and the people who don’t hold the gun. There are enough funny lines to keep an evening of repartee and satire from imploding, especially under Randall Arney’s sure-footed direction, yet the comedy does skewer one of the most pressing social debates of the 1980s, like a vehicle that’s been spinning in a swamp for some time. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through March 14. (310) 208-5454.
Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m. Starts: Feb. 10. Continues through March 14, 2010

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