Co-produced by the Independent Eye and Theater of the First Amendment

At GMU’s TheaterSpace to Sept. 27

Lesbians Who Kill

By Deb Margolin in collaboration

with Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver

Directed by Tom King

and Jeremy Beck

Produced by

Moonlight Theatre Company

At Church Street Theater to Sept. 27

Credit the producers of this week’s two-handers, Mating Cries and Lesbians Who Kill, with knowing a thing or three about promotion. Those are terrific titles. Misleading, but terrific nonetheless.

The former moniker suggests passion with an undertone of violence; the latter suggests violence springing directly from passion. They raise expectations even as the evenings they so evocatively fail to describe are leaping headlong into inertia after their initial lighting cues. Mating Cries’ two-hour plunge begins with a deflating little opening speech in the passive voice (“It is presumed, sometimes, that we have something significant to say…”), while Lesbians Who Kill makes the mistake of holding a languorously uninformative introductory tableau too long, thereby starting with a pause from which it never really recovers. Different approaches, same result: Patrons who were fully prepared to sit up attentively instead settle back in their seats.

At Mating Cries, this pause is arguably the point. Playwright-performers Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller, having collected slips of paper on which patrons have been asked to volunteer the names of their “erotic” partners, apparently believe that a bit of reassuring backpedaling is in order. They’re about to present six determinedly nonthreatening sketches about relationships, and they seem anxious not to get off on the wrong bare foot.

Everything about their appearance suggests ’60s Haight-Ashbury—the diaphanous earth-toned clothing they wear, the asymmetrically draped fabric in velvety reds and purples with which they’ve defined their performance space, and the multicolored candles atop the tables flanking their square Persian carpet. Bishop and Fuller, co-founders of a theater ensemble called the Independent Eye, come by these trappings honestly, having performed together as “artistic life-mates” for more than three decades. Their ease and comfort as theatrical partners are undeniable, as evident as the gray that streaks their long tresses. But their material seems every bit as old as their collaboration, and a good deal more tired.

Which is not to suggest that the six sketches they present in Mating Cries always head where one might expect, though some do. An opening bit in which the performers earnestly recite personals ads, then don masks made in their own images for get-togethers with the folks who answer the ads, is blindingly obvious. And a skit in which two office workers tap away at adjacent keyboards while one fantasizes about what she might say should the other ever look up from his computer monitor is scarcely more surprising.

But other sketches veer into outright weirdness before arriving at flat-footed endings. The most eccentric is probably the one about a kid who goes dateless to his senior prom and selects as his dance partner a girl who turns out to be Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction. But it has competition from the puppet skit in which a couple driving frantically to a maternity ward take a wrong turn on the freeway of life and end up perpetually between exits. Patrons may well feel similarly stranded.

While there are instances of amusing writing—I especially liked one lengthy litany of desire that begins “I want to dream the impossible dream, to climb every mountain, to go tell it on the mountain…” only to conclude “…and then to say, I did it my way”—for the most part, the evening’s language is plain-spoken to a fault. The show gives the impression of having been conceived with school and community- center audiences in mind—the sort of patrons who arrive at performances with a vague suspicion that theater is elitist, and who must then be coaxed and persuaded that it’s actually down-to-earth and about their lives. Nothing wrong with that, of course, except that Theater of the First Amendment is in West Fairfax, not West Halifax.

Something like the opposite approach is taken by the Moonlight Theatre Company in its production of Lesbians Who Kill. Directors Tom King and Jeremy Beck appear to have assumed that with so amusingly outré a title on their marquee, they needn’t worry much about what playwright Deb Margolin puts on the stage. The production barely even tries to make contact with the audience, unless you count the moment when actress Jane Rupp points a gun at male patrons and orders them to move to one side of the theater.

Theoretically, the evening concerns May (Rupp) and June (Kristen Hathaway), a couple whose relationship seems predicated almost entirely on their calendar-inspired names. They live in their car (May is under the impression that the rubber tires make it safer from lightning bolts than their house), and they may be responsible for the deaths of some middle-aged men whose murders are chronicled in news reports they keep hearing on their radio. Even they seem unsure whether they’re involved—and only fitfully interested in finding out. So they kill a seemingly interminable 90 minutes feeling sorry for themselves, dressing up in silly outfits, and occasionally lip-synching to movie dialogue. Why movie dialogue? Search me. Maybe they have a dashboard TV plugged into their cigarette lighter.

The evening is skimpily produced, except for Linda Chittick’s snappy costumes, which hang on a clothesline that pretty much substitutes for a setting. Less can be more, of course. But sometimes it’s just less. CP