- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2002

What do an unhinged housewife, a disillusioned rodeo performer and a baton twirler who has found God through her routine have in common? They are among the characters in "Talking With ," a one-woman show now in repertory at Arena Stage's Living Stage.

The play, written by Jane Martin, has no plot to speak of it's just a collection of 11 character studies. But what characters they are.

The audience is first confronted by an actress preparing to go on stage in "Fifteen Minutes." She talks about other roles, about the strange notion of being an evening's entertainment. Bored and imperious at first, she turns herself inside out becoming vulnerable, exposing herself. She would like, she says, a bio of the audience, a mutually revealing arrangement, so she wouldn't be the only one laid bare.

The good-natured but sadly misplaced housewife in "Scraps" takes refuge in the stories of Oz, the make-believe land of the Wizard and the munchkins and a dozen other characters of whom you never knew. "You can go a whole lifetime without ever having to subtract," she says, instead preferring to wile away the hours imagining she's the Scarecrow's wife.

If there is a thread that runs through "Talking With ," it is the way the play embraces these souls a little out of step with the rest of the world. The rodeo saddle bronco rider forced out of the sport she loves because it has been commodified, the actress so desperate for a role that she holds her cat hostage at an audition to get the part not one of these women is well-adjusted, but they all have something compelling to say.

An off-kilter religious philosophy shows up in several of the pieces. In "French Fries," for instance, the woman points to plastic as a hint of eternity God's way of telling us there are things that last forever. And there's the baton twirler, overcome with religious fervor, who likens twirling to "throwing yourself up to God."

The manic pieces are offset by more serious-minded episodes: a daughter recounting how her mother prepared for her death after she received a diagnosis of cancer, a woman trying to make up for an unexceptional life.

The production's set is sparse, really no more than the props for each piece. Yet director Ralph Remington and actress Marie Page create plenty of energy.

Miss Page shows terrific range in bringing these oddballs to life. She is equally convincing as a young snake handler in the South and an elderly woman who dreams of living in McDonald's.

Occasionally, the material veers toward the cartoonish, but Miss Page manages to keep the characters flesh and blood, humanized by their frailties and humor.


WHAT: "Talking With ," which is in repertory with "The Gimmick" as part of "Two Women, Two Shows"

WHERE:Living Stage, 14th and T streets NW

WHEN: Through Feb. 24. Showtimes vary; check with theater


PHONE: 202/488-3300, or www.arenastage.com


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