"THIS IS the House" is an uneven but earnest and involving performance piece about the abuse of women by men, presented by Horizons Theater as part one of its annual "New Voices" series.
Written and performed by Rebecca Rice and Janet Stanford, "This Is the House" impressionistically depicts how women are endangered and oppressed by their men, but also says that women often perpetuate this abuse by acquiescence, and continue the chain of pain with their children.
A combination of '70s liberation rhetoric and '80s performance attitudes, this production marks a slight return to earlier, more exclusively feminist agitprop territory mapped out by Horizons when it was called Pro Femina Theater. The message isn't a particularly new one and it is at times naively presented, but it remains a gripping and crucial one.
On a spare, stylized stage dominated by an altar-like female symbol that serves as a changing screen, the two women play urgently to the audience, alternating fluidly among poetic monologues, earthy skits and brief rhythmic rituals to serve up thick slices of life. Rice, in particular, proves to be a remarkably strong and flexible performer with a powerful, stirring singing voice and an uncanny ability, akin to Whoopi Goldberg's style, to inhabit other personas with humor and compassion.
The 90-minute program is given its continuity by the recurring narrative of two quarrelsome co-workers at a tool supply company who find they have something in common -- selfish and violently abusive husbands. United in their pain and confusion, the women try to remodel themselves to please their husbands, but learn they can't win that way. They finally stand up to their men, which amounts to leaving them, and pass on to their daughters a legacy of hope mixed with uncertainty.
Horizons' New Voices series continues with a free performance of "Absent-Minded Sweethearts" Friday at noon at the National Archives; the Charabanc Theatre Company of Belfast will present "Gold in the Street" June 30. Call 342-7706. -- Joe Brown. THIS IS THE HOUSE -- At Horizons Theater through June 29.