Horizons, which had a considerable success last season with Jane Martin's "Talking With . . .," an evening of eerie monologues for actresses, has gone looking for similar pay dirt with "Orgasmo Adulto Escapes from the Zoo." Essentially four protracted monologues about women awakening to the inequities of their preliberated state, "Orgasmo" may not inspire quite so many "eurekas" as its predecessor. But it does show off Horizons as a lively theater company, determined to keep both its performers and patrons on their toes.
This quartet of consciousness-raising sketches is actually drawn from a series of 14 by Franca Rame and Dario Fo, who, in addition to being playwrights, are also popular street performers and political gadflies in Italy. On his own, Fo wrote the leftist farce "The Accidental Death of an Anarchist," which Arena Stage produced last year, and until last fall the State Department felt compelled to refuse him a visa to the United States. If such credentials suggest a certain virulence of tone and radicalism of thought, it is not particularly evident in "Orgasmo," which represents a fairly basic level of feminism. Maybe Italian sexism is more resistant to change than the American variety, but the women in "Orgasmo" seem to be fighting battles that have long been conceded on these shores. What strikes these harried housewives as a revelation may strike Americans merely as a reminder.
Still, there is a certain gusto in the pieces, adapted by actress Estelle Parsons, who performed them triumphantly at the Public Theatre in New York last season. The Italians, after all, are legendary as theatrical people. Drawing on their traditional volubility and volatility, not to mention a fondness for ribaldry, "Orgasmo" is Italian to the core. More than once, I found myself reminded of Boccaccio and the commedia dell'arte. While Fo and Rame may want to make a serious political point, they're perfectly willing to go to scatological lengths to make it.
The liveliest of the four monologues, "Same Old Story," concludes with a mother telling her young child a fable studded with all those words that normally get kids' mouths washed out with soap. It's an outrageous tale that turns the tables on men (among other indignities) and imagines what it might be like if they were the ones who gave birth, if only to a "rag dolly." Carole Myers recounts it with blush-free exuberance, her eyes amazement-bright, as if she were hosting a Saturday morning TV show. Myers has always been a gregarious actress, and her friendly, forthright ways are the perfect counterpoint to the material.
Blue as the story gets -- navy blue is more like it -- it is the logical extension of the monologue, which relates one woman's comic travails with sex, her ensuing pregnancy, a demeaning visit to the abortionist's and her ultimate decision to have the infant. "I don't know about you," she says to the audience, as the risks and indignities accumulate, "but it really gets to me that with being pregnant, it's the woman always, and the man never. I object."
In fact, all the women in "Orgasmo" object to being treated as mattress bait, when they're not cleaning house, tending squalling babies and noxious relatives or dashing off to the factory to put in a shift of their own. While her husband dozes an extra half-hour, the flustered housewife in "Waking Up" (Patricia Tulli) is having a terrible time getting off to work. She can't find her key and baby keeps messing his diapers; in the confusion she inadvertently dusts baby's bottom with grated cheese. Still, it occurs to her that "all-purpose wives" are a capitalistic tool. Every night, they put their emasculated husbands back together so they can head off to the assembly line the next morning, "handsome and fresh, to produce more for him, Mr. National Corporation." Juggling infant, handbag, grated cheese and indignation, Tulli is appealingly discombobulated.
The Lollobrigida-like housewife (Mary Ellen Nester) in "A Woman Alone" is equally harassed. Locked in the apartment by a jealous hushand, she's got two children and a randy paraplegic brother-in-law to tend to. A peeping Tom has trained his binoculars on her. And the telephone jangles repeatedly. It's either that husband, checking up on her, an obscene phone caller or a persistent young lover, wanting to arrange a rendezvous. (However harried, Nester takes care to powder her nose each time before picking up the receiver. Nice touch, that.) Her observations on the word "orgasm" -- "it's like the name of a revolting animal . . . a headline on the paper, 'Adult Orgasm Escapes from American Circus' " -- provide the evening's title.
Dressed in a red, boa-trimmed negligee, Nester gives a vigorous performance -- at first, chirping "I'm happy, I'm happy," despite the overwhelming evidence, and then slowly realizing that the shotgun on the wall offers the only solution to her problems. Nonetheless, the sketch could be cut in half with no loss of content.
The last of the four, "Medea," might as well be dropped altogther. It purports to be a long-lost version of Euripides' tragedy, but is curiously enough the least dramatic of the pieces, serving mainly to advance Medea's belief that "children are like the heavy wooden yoke of a cow that men have put on our necks, the better to hold us down." This Medea kills her infants, not out of jealousy or rage, but "to create a new woman." Susan Patz McInerney plays the role with fierce intensity, but giving parts of the monologue to two additional actresses, called the chorus, dilutes the piece of much of its schizophrenic theatricality.
For the most part, though, Leslie Bravman Jacobson's direction is alert, and the cartoon sets, with cut-out props stuck to the walls, help establish the properly broad tone. As a piece of theatrical rabble-rousing, "Orgasmo Adulto" may have lost some of its punch crossing the Atlantic. Fortunately, a lot of the spice remains. So do a few basic truths, as applicable at home as they are abroad.