The evils of a life suburban can be summarized in two words: "conformity" and "Costco." Targets don't get much easier than the stuff of the 'burbs, and Pam Sherman hits all the expected ones as she tells the story of an urbanite's attempt to survive outside the city.
"Pumping Josey: Life and Death in Suburbia" is the headlining monologue in Horizons Theatre's "Going Solo: A Showcase of Fabulous Females." The production's second half will alternate among three other solo performances by Horizons veterans: Vanessa Thomas's "Communion," Terri Allen's "Portraits in Time" and the piece that was staged on the night of review, Karin Abromaitis's "Domestic Snakes."
"Josey" is a lighthearted meditation on stalled dreams, family vs. freedom, even unexpected death. "I won't become a Chadds Ford wife!" Sherman cries as Josey, a mid-thirties New York actuary who moves to the community after marrying an ophthalmologist. She's baffled by the residents' politeness and the fact that no one seems to be nurturing a second career: "You mean the waiter's really a waiter?"
Josey has children and becomes increasingly depressed, but she finds some comfort when she meets Carri, another mother in her thirties who appears to have "learned to fit in without losing her edge." Josey also seeks guidance from her personal heroines -- including psychoanalyst Anna Freud, Hungarian freedom fighter Hannah Senesh and Mary Todd Lincoln -- as she begins to wonder, "I love my babies, but this can't be all, can it?"
If you can take her alleged need for "edge" with a grain of salt, "Pumping Josey" is a pleasant if unsurprising diversion. The story is based on Sherman's own: Having previously worked as a lawyer and actress in Washington, she moved to Pittsford, N.Y., in 2002 and, after the sudden death of a 35-year-old friend, wrote the piece with D.C. playwright Caleen Sinnette Jennings.
While the experience of trading the subway for a minivan may be comparable across the country, Josey's origin doesn't quite ring true. Sherman is a likable performer, but even if you don't know her background, her sensible haircut, soccer mom outfit and gentle kvetching combine to make Josey seem more Bethesda than New York. The script also fails to build up Josey's inner "urban warrior" at the beginning of the piece, instead having her talk briefly about the idiosyncrasies of Manhattan and its dwellers while self-deprecatingly saying of herself, "Actuaries are the people who don't have enough personality to become accountants." Since Josey's edge is never apparent, it's hard to appreciate her fear of losing it.
Sherman plays 10 characters in "Pumping Josey," none of whom is all that original -- the complaining Jewish mother, the wisecracking friend, the levelheaded therapist -- though each characterization is good for a few laughs. The production's biggest weakness is the inclusion of slides throughout the monologue, putting the obviousness of the piece into overdrive as Josey's story is spelled out with, say, a photo of a hospital bed after she gives birth or a casket when her friend dies.
While "Pumping Josey" makes light of matters of life and death, "Domestic Snakes" rather seriously considers a more specific topic: hair. Described as a "multimedia presentation of prose, poetry, acting, mime, and movement theater," Abromaitis's piece is more performance art than monologue.
Her own locks covered with a scarf, Abromaitis tells stories about hair, switches to mime when a recording interrupts her with excerpts from Anne Sexton's "Rapunzel" and "The Letting Down of the Hair," and eventually climbs into the production's main "rope sculpture," which hangs like long blond curls at center stage until Abromaitis whirls herself around and then into the middle of it. Unless you are captivated by such theories as "Heaven is carpeted with the hair of women," it won't take long until "Domestic Snakes" has you fondly remembering your time spent in Chadds Ford.
Pumping Josey, by Pam Sherman and Caleen Sinnette Jennings. Directed by David Hilder. Sound, Jill B.C. Du Boff; lighting and set, Carl F. Gudenius and Maja E. White. Approximately 1 hour 10 minutes.
Domestic Snakes, by Karin Abromaitis with additional text by Anne Sexton. Directed by Dody DiSanto. Sound, Kevin Hill. Approximately 40 minutes. Both through June 27 at Theatre on the Run, 3700 S. Four Mile Run Dr., Arlington. Call 703-578-1100.