Raise your hands if you remember Emily Post and her sister Abby van Buren.
You’ll have to get up early in the morning for this one.
Emily Post and Abby van Buren were sisters whose advice appeared in the newspapers columns (remember them) on a daily basis.
Advice was sought on just about everything from how to cook/bake certain specialty dishes for company, to how to serve them (what sized dishes), to how to stop interfering mother’s in law from wrecking a marriage, to how to stop a marriage from failing, to cheating husbands to disciplining children to how often to have sex.
Most advice dated back to the dark ages where women belonged in the kitchen and men brought home the bacon. Goodbye Emily, hello #me too. Welcome to the 21st century.
In 1940 Emily’s syndicated column, “Social Problems” ‘appeared in hundreds of newspapers across the country. At her peak she received more than 5000 letters a week. She died in 1960 but copies of her books on “Etiquette” still line the shelves of bookstores.
Our play “Bliss” or Emily Post Is Dead is set in 1960.
In Moxie Theatre’s co-production with Moving Arts at Atwater Village Theatre, Los Angeles in their world premiere “Bliss or Emily Post Is Dead” by Jami Brandli, now playing here through Feb.25th, three suburban New Jersey housewives live on every word Emily Post writes. “Dear Mrs. Post”.
|Lydia Lea Real, Morgan Carberry, Taylor Linekin and Alexandra Slade|
It’s almost their salvation for venting what women are now living through to this day; abuse both physical or emotional by their spouses, living up to expectations, playing second fiddle and being seen but not heard. And that’s just the beginning.
These are not just your everyday humdrum suburban housewives. They, just as the reality television show ‘The Real Housewives Housewife’s of Beverly Hills’ (or the likes of which) are composites. Brandli’s women are reincarnates, more or less of the their Greek counterparts.
The playwright compares them and their plights to the mythical Greek women the likes of Clytemnestra, Media, and Antigone, all tragic figures. Like women of today, some in powerful positions, some not so much, subjugation and abuse of the ‘weaker sex’ is not now, was not then and most likely will not be in the years to come, a new phenomenon. Why not then go back to the Greeks of today and see how they handled their situations in a modern setting?
If you feel the need to brush up on your Greek Mythology go for it. The playwright’s uncanny comparisons are a direct hit but it’s not necessary to know all the history behind each of the characters.
|Morgan Carberry and Steve Froehlich|
Yours truly was comfortable knowing sketchy details some (few) innuendos and comparisons to Greek Mythology, although in my long ago memory I did study it in College. That said I was thoroughly entertained at face value at this dark comedy cannily directed by founder and former artistic director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg with assist from Hannah Logan.
Here’s the setup:
Two of the real housewives of North Orange, New Jersey, Clementine (Morgan Carberry) and Maddy, (Lydia Lea Real) are shown in the cutaway pieces of their homes highlighted in subdued sky blues and eye popping chartreuse or lime green, touches of tangerine and sunshine yellow, (Victoria Petrovich) and have husband issues. They are among the oppressed and mentally abused. It’s always the silent treatment or the away factor that give way to suspicion. Both husbands make themselves scarce to their respective families by coming home from 'the office' late or just on business trips.
|(L) Taylor Linekin and Lydia Lea Real|
Carberry is sharp, stinging and unforgiving in her portrayal of Clementine the unhappy in life in her housewife role. Her romantic tryst with her widower doctor, Dr. Smith (Steve Froehlich), is only one symptom of her having a little more say so over this relationship than she does in her marriage at home.
Lidia Lea Real’s Maddy/ Medea role is as funny to watch play out as it is tragic in its entirety. Needing to fit in is as much a part of her DNA as baking the perfect crumpet. As a transplant from her native Hawaii she struggles to be more than she is.
Her revenge on her cheating husband turns tragic, and as history will attest, it all comes crashing down when she finally gets her crumpet recipe right. Real captures her Medea perfectly as the typical June Cleaver (of “Father Knows Best”) of the women and guess how that turned out?
The one and stymieing outlet they all share is writing to Emily Post, whose advice goes back to Victorian days. Their other outlet is the back and forth transport of ‘mother’s little helper pill’ they get from Dr. Smith, Clementine’s par amour. The exchange is done by hiding the pills in the zipper compartment of a Hoover Vacuum that also contains the dust gathered from vacuuming.
Antonia (Taylor Linekin), whose bedroom is also in view, (she’s in pink) is a teenager being held hostage by a domineering, think tyrant, uncle who beats her and chains her to her bed because she wants to go the school prom with a young man who is socially unacceptable (think black).
She’s the only one of the three that’s forward thinking. She wants to march for civil rights; in other words she’s the liberated one. Teenager Antonia battered by her uncle, escapes and follows her dream by marching with the protesters in the deep -south. Taylor Linekin, a senior acting student at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, she’s off to a grand start.
Then there’s Cassandra (Alexandra Slade) the single working girl who arrives in town and is brought to tea at Clementine’s: “Just as Mrs. Post suggests in Chapter 23.” Maddy: (“Did your uncle hire a maid?”)
It seems Cassandra came with a new business Clementine’s husband recently acquired and ergo “she is a working, liberated, African American and when not being summoned by Apollo (Steve Froehlich dressed in loin cloth and looking virile, fit and yummy) to love him, tries to give the other’s a chance to change the course of their history. But bummer, they don’t listen or believe.
|Alexandra Slade and Morgan Carberry|
The production and surrounds make some powerful and entertaining statements. Each of the women, strong and committed, are true to their own character as they play out their frustration that will ultimately end in disaster.
Shelly Williams point on costumes also define the personalities of the women: straight lined slim dresses for Clementine, flowing prints for Maddy, black and white saddle shoes, pink bow and assorted 60’s dresses for Antonia and the same 60's attire for Cassandra.
Christina J. Martin’s bright lighting helps rev up the spotlight on each character and Missy Bradstreet’s wigs are 60’s lookers as Matt Lescault-Wood’s period music completes the picture.
Who knows when the next revelation of spousal and or workplace abuse will hit the fans? Just know that it will and no amount of predictions from Cassandra will fix the problem until it’s addressed from the top of our elected officials, to Moral Values groups, to church leaders and of course to believing the victims.
“Bliss” comes with a heavy -duty workload traveling from Olympus to North Orange, New Jersey and loaded with pay dirt.
Another two thumbs up production.
Another two thumbs up production.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Feb. 28th
Organization: Moxie Theatre
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 6663 El Cajon Blvd. Ste. N
Ticket Prices: $33.00
Photo: Kari Cadel Photography