The Dysfunctional Guide to Home Perfection, Marital Bliss and Passionate Hot Romance
nytheatre.com review by Robert Attenweiler
February 27, 2009
So, you want to be able to bust out the wit and wisdom of centuries' worth of women writers writing about love and marital sustainability the next time ... well, whenever the next time that knowledge would be acutely called for, but your busy schedule just doesn't permit all that book reading. You're in luck. The Dysfunctional Theatre Company has done all the reading for you and gets out the best parts in a mere 55 minutes in their new play, The Dysfunctional Guide to Home Perfection, Marital Bliss and Passionate Hot Romance, now playing at The Red Room.
The story that very loosely ties all the research together concerns five young women in NYC sharing several bottles of wine. One of them (Amy Beth Sherman) is having marital problems and relates to her friends (Jennifer Gill, Rachel Grundy, Amy Overman, and Theresa Unfried) her current struggles going through marriage counseling. But it turns out that Sherman's character has never read "the book," the collection of women's love ordeals that happens to share its title with this production. Her friends are happy to take her through the book chapter by chapter—reciting passages and assuming the roles of the characters the book discusses. It is in this way that the audience meets historical figures such as Queen Elizabeth I, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and J, the author of the 1969 book The Sensuous Woman, all putting in their two cents to help guide the lovers of today.
I have a lot of respect for this project, though its execution is still lacking enough polish to really be effective. The play developed as a collaborative writing effort among the show's five actresses. There is plenty of history of theater projects that incorporate or rely completely on existing writing such as letters, diaries and novels. Many of these plays rely on strong staging and experiment with creative stagecraft to tell their story and augment the existing text. So, while the pieces of existing text that the five writers of The Dysfunctional Guide to Home Perfection... have assembled are rich, their presentation of it is lacking much punch. The naturalistic framework of this play is too obviously the vehicle that gets us to the texts and doesn't really work in creating an effective narrative out of all the disparate elements. They're all too nice to material that could have stood to be confronted more boldly.
All that being said, this production has charm and courage in coming at this historical base material from a fun and interesting angle. A project that goes from Margery Kempe's argument for celibacy within a marriage to J's account of a modern married couple's seduction is a project with some real heart and one I would like to see developed further.