Lipstick and Spitting Love by Rachel Yoder (Lipstick) and Jennifer Rogers (Spitting Love)

Two plays focusing on the problematic nature of love within male/female relationships make up the first outing from new Cork-based theatre company Roundhouse. The company’s premise is that artistic directors Jennifer Rogers and Rachel Yoder will operate together as writers, and the playwriting in both instances is notable for its fluidity and accomplishment – particularly so in Rogers’ case. An organised bravery also fuels both productions, suggesting Rogers and Yoder have both guts and directorial ability. Despite the fact that each writer directs her own play, neither text is treated with such reverence that it takes precedence over the production; there is, on the whole, an interweaving of writing and theatrical expression that results from the women’s intimate knowledge of the work.

Both productions take their lead from the theatre of the absurd, with Yoder and set designers Gabriel Rogers and Eoin O’Doherty locating Lipstick within a Dali-esque surrealist landscape that includes an enormous red couch, within which central characters Jane (Mary-Louise McCarthy) and Archibald (James Browne) become lost while attending marriage-counselling sessions, and a vast dinner table, over which the newly-weds periodically misinterpret and mishear each other. Meantime, in a clear indication of how swamped the young couple feel in their new roles, costume designer Katie Queen dresses office worker Archie in the eponymous ‘Big Suit’, made famous by David Byrne of Talking Heads in his parody of the uptight white male attempting to get down with the kids.

The theme of the piece is miscommunication and the factors that inform this, such as insecurity, an interfering mother-in-law, and both characters’ rigid definition of themselves and each other. “How am I supposed to know who I am when I don’t know who I am?” asks Jane, to which Archie responds: “I know who you are, you’re my wife.” Yet Archie has his own difficulties, admitting at a later stage that he, too, feels misunderstood in his position as husband and breadwinner.

The young couple’s renegotiation of their relationship, as each learns to loosen up and reach out to the other person, makes for an interesting study in human communication. However, the play may have had more merit had the characters not inhabited such stereotypical roles. There have, after all, already been numerous depictions on stage and in film of married women breaking out of their assigned situations - think Shirley Valentine, Educating Rita - but these last were written in the 1980s. These days, the idea of a university-educated, contemporary woman (particularly one with no children) meekly becoming a traditional housewife upon marriage, and then timidly seeking a part-time job in a library, feels somewhat archaic. Yoder’s interrogation of the difficulties faced in getting past the masks we all wear would have been just as relevant had her protagonists’ not emerged as if from the 1950s.

If the production suffers in any way from being directed by its writer, it is that certain questions were not asked that maybe should have been, such as what exactly is the arc of development of the Archie character and why a play that would have said all it had to over a sixty minute period runs for an unnecessary additional thirty minutes. On the whole, however, Lipstick is aided by a strong production, which includes some notable performances from Laura Daly as an inept psychiatrist and Irene Kelleher as Fran, the sexually overt librarian.

Spitting Love's strong point is in Jennifer Roger’s writing, which is fluid and accomplished, if at times somewhat impenetrable, in its meditation upon love and relationships. Although the plot of the play is somewhat confused – it starts off as a potential crime drama, but quickly turns into a debate between a young romantic and an older cynic – Roger’s insightful writing carries it along.

The cynical Harry (Peadar O’Donohue) has dealt with the trauma of losing a child by shutting down all possibility of love in his life, and by blaming women for his ill fate. By forcing Harry to reflect on and take responsibility for his own role in the twists and turns of his life, the romantic Stan (Shane Falvey) acts as a kind of mirror that Harry must look into. What he sees are events from his past that include his walking out on his wife, telling her as he did so that he was only going out for a while. “That’s how men control women,” Stan tells him, “endless uncertainty.” As they men talk, the set about them is removed, piece by piece, like a jigsaw being worked backwards, or a life being deconstructed.

Roger’s piece is not so much a narrative as a contemplation and, although there is much of interest within the piece, it may have succeeded better had there been a stronger storyline to propel it forward. After all, despite the contemporary feel of the play, it is nonetheless premised on an audience investing in the characters – both emotionally and intellectually. Philosophical musings within a theatrical space are all very well, but they need to be framed by an engaging narrative, or the drama itself loses out.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Lipstick and Spitting Love by Rachel Yoder (Lipstick) and Jennifer Rogers (Spitting Love)

02 - 06 June, 2009 and 09 - 13 June, 2009

Produced by Roundhouse Theatre Company
In Granary Theatre, Cork

Directed by Rachel Yoder (Lipstick) and Jennifer Rogers (Spitting Love)

Set Design: Gabriel Rogers and Eoin O’Doherty

Costume Design: Katie Queen

With: Mary-Louise McCarthy, James Browne, Laura Daly, Irene Kelleher, Peadar O’Donohue and Shane Falvey