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NOT WORTH IT

Impact Theater’s latest, ’Not for Women Only,’ misses all its marks

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The Impact Theater is looking for new plays from Brooklyn playwrights. Lord knows we can use some new talent.

Unfortunately, either in desperation or in a misguided enthusiasm, Impact Theater has chosen for its initial presentation of homegrown talent "Not for Women Only" by Alan Magill.

"Not for Women Only" has a long history. Magill says he began writing it eight years ago and "soon after it was put in the proverbial bottom drawer."

For some reason, Magill took it out of that bottom drawer a few years later and began revising.

The play had its first reading as part of a comedy writing workshop Magill was offering in Brooklyn College’s continuing education program. Last year, two monologues from the play were presented as part of Magill’s vignette play "From Bags to Riches" at the Kings Bay YM-YWHA. A while later various rewrites were read by actors in Magill’s playwriting group at the Kings Highway Library. Finally, Magill read about Tim Lewis’ Impact Theater in GO Brooklyn and submitted his play.

Four months later Magill got a thumbs-up from Lewis. Now, eight years after Magill first put pen to paper, the final product is onstage at Impact Theater, directed by Louis Solomon, a Prospect Heights resident.

The question this reviewer asks is how did the play get through so many readings and rewrites? How were so many people involved with its development, without someone saying, "Wait a minute, this ain’t ’Death of a Salesman,’" (a play which Magill quotes, by the way)?

What’s wrong with "Not for Women Only"? Nothing that a different plot, better dialogue, more acute direction and another cast couldn’t help.

"Not for Women Only" is about how two members of a women’s consciousness-raising group deal with their feelings about men. June (Bridgett Ane Lawrence) has a hatred of men that seems to be based on antagonism toward her philandering father, Edgar (Ron Parrella). Serena (Ali Costine) has somewhat more muted negative feelings, induced perhaps by the fact that she keeps getting beaten up by her husband (a prize we never meet).

It all comes to a head when Serena, having had her consciousness raised to unprecedented heights, deliberately runs over a man while driving to June’s birthday party. To complicate matters, June’s father has chosen this day to attempt a last-ditch effort at reconnecting with his daughter and makes a surprise visit during the party.

The guy Serena hit turns out to be Eric (Mike Gannon), a friend June had invited to her party. Despite being thrown 30 feet, he manages to survive.

Edgar turns out not to be June’s father, but a softhearted Good Samaritan who married her mother when he discovered she had been impregnated by a man who had no intention of marrying her - an experience she found so traumatic she never again wanted to have sex.

There’s more, but why bother?

All this might not be so bad if the dialogue wasn’t cliched, repetitive and moving at a pace that would allow a competing snail to win the Olympics.

To make matters worse, much of the dialogue consists of monologues addressed to an invisible character or the audience, conversation between two people on either side of a door, or one person chatting with someone over the phone. None of which is very helpful when it comes to establishing relationships on stage. On the other hand, it’s easy to see why it took the author eight years to complete his play. He needed the advent of ubiquitous cell phones.

The play doesn’t seem to have a costume designer. If it did, that person might have dressed the philandering father in something more attractive and appropriate for his character than a sloppy-looking jacket and sweater.

Finally, for some incomprehensible reason, Solomon chose to make one scene change so fastidiously long, that I would have clocked it if I’d known from the beginning he was planning to break a record.

With so many things going wrong, it was hard to tell whether the cast was holding up its end. Given the nature of the material, one suspects the play could only have been saved by a totally camp interpretation. Unfortunately, although the play does have its comedic elements, it’s clear the playwright and director want us to take "Not for Women Only" seriously.

After so many rewrites and readings, perhaps it’s best that the author let "Not for Women Only" go. Leave the play behind and go forward with the lessons learned. Tomorrow is another play.

 

"Not for Women Only" runs through Aug. 5; Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $15. The Impact Theater is located at 190 Underhill Ave. For more information, call (718) 390-7163.

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