Photo by Michael Lamont

“The female of the species is more deadly than the male,” wrote Rudyard Kipling just about 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, at least. 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 (Merrit 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 blustering out some fake adoration for the famous author, Molly pulls out a pistol and threatens to kill Margot for her sequence of celebrity-motivated, contradictory exegeses that, Molly believes, were responsible for her own 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 “settling” 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 with Molly's intention to murder her mother in cold blood.

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 and resolves a lingering question of

genealogy. (The farce is not intended to hold up a mirror to life's

most probable outcomes.) When cabbie Frank finally grows a pair and

starts ordering Tess around, her eyes light up and her shoulder straps

flip down. 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.; thru March 14. (310) 208-5454. (Steven Leigh Morris)         

Plays being reviewed over the weekend:

THE ANTARCTIC CHRONICLES Jessica Manuel's autobiographical comedy about
her days working on the frozen underside of the earth. Hudson Guild Theater,
6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru March 10. (323) 960-7744.

CATCH THE TIGER Melvin Ishmael Johnson's play about Black Nationalist
leader Marcus Garvey. The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; opens Feb.
12; Fri.-Sun., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (323) 850-4436.

THE COLOR PURPLE Starring American Idol Season 3 winner
Fantasia Barrino. Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; Tues.-Fri.,
8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru Feb. 28. (213) 365-3500.

THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES Annette Bening stars in Joanna Murray-Smith's
farce. With David Arquette, Mireille Enos, Julian Sands. Geffen Playhouse,
10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2
& 7 p.m.; thru March 14. (310) 208-5454.

NORTH ATLANTIC The Wooster Group performs James Strahs' political
satire. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., L.A.; Tues.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7
p.m.; thru Feb. 21. (213) 237-2800.

ON CARING FOR THE BEAST Cornerstone Theater Company presents Shishir
Kurup's play “exploring the struggle between spirit and flesh, hope and
despair, love and fear.”. Inner City Arts, 720 Kohler St., L.A.;
Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; Wed., 8 p.m.; thru Feb. 24, (213) 627-9621.

A PRAYER FOR MY DAUGHTER Thomas Babe's cop drama. Crown City
Theatre, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; thru
March 6. (800) 838-3006.

SEASCAPE WITH SHARKS AND DANCER Don Nigro's romantic comedy about love
at first sight. Studio/Stage, 520 N. Western Ave., L.A.; Wed.-Thurs., Sun.,
8 p.m.; thru March 5, (800) 838-3006

TITUS ANDRONICUS William Shakespeare's tragedy. Theatre of NOTE,
1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., L.A.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March
13. (323) 856-8611.

TWELFTH NIGHT Presented by Chrysalis Stage. Vic Lopez Auditorium, 12417
E. Philadelphia St., Whittier; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Feb.

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