"This Is the House," which opened last night at the Horizons Theatre, is a collage rather than a play, a blending of prose, poetry, movement and music coalescing around the theme of domestic violence as experienced by women. The piece has a heartfelt urgency, and even though it is a bit insistent, it is an excellent effort by two local artists.
It is written and performed by Rebecca Rice, a 15-year veteran of the improvisational Living Stage Theater Company, and Janet Stanford, an actress and director. Rice is the more impressive of the two, with an expressive face and a big, rich voice that fills up the modest church hall in Georgetown that Horizons inhabits. It is worth noting that at this feminist theater, Stanford has not been disqualified from performing this fairly energetic piece just because she is several months pregnant, which was distracting but also interesting.
The centerpiece of the simple but attractive set is a wooden sculpture, draped with colored veils and reminiscent of female shapes. The two performers light a candle, as though at an altar, and state a few premises. "Every woman since Eve is a gambler . . . " is one. "The odds are stacked against her." There is a vignette of a woman afraid to tell the police her husband has sliced her arm with a knife because he is the police chief; another of a woman playing cards who is eventually pounded to death by her 250-pound mate.
Two telephone saleswomen at a tool company fight each other -- one angry at the other's submission to the boss and to her worthless boyfriend. These two form a small soap opera, returning at different points in their evolution. Indeed, if it weren't for the fact that these women eventually walk out on their abusive mates, the evening might well be called "The Victims' Hour." The scene is the only attempt to examine the other end of the punching bag; otherwise the general point of view is that men get what they want by "beating women into submission."
When the authors allow their sense of humor and irony full rein, as they do in speeches made by two goddesses, they are more effective. Goddess Bala, triumphant at unleashing the full force of women, cries out that now men will be forced to lose weight and supply sex on demand, and if they try to escape they will have to "run down the street in high heels." Goddess Sterilica speaks of a time when the only men on earth will be those left "on a stud farm in Nevada." Sterilica does not make such a future sound very inviting.
This irony is unfortunately in too short supply. There is a slightly sanctimonious air overlaying these proceedings, a sense of righteousness that goes beyond Womanpower. But the work, including the set, the lighting and the costumes, has integrity and inventiveness, and offers an artist's commentary on an important social problem.
This Is the House, created and performed by Rebecca Rice and Janet Stanford, contributing director Abel Lopez, costumes by Pamela Schmidt, directed by Abel Lopez, set by Bill Wurtz, Leo P. Stone and Matthew Cooper. At Horizons Theatre, Grace Episcopal Church, through June 29.