Dario Fo and Franca Rame enjoy the highest reputations in Europe for anarchic political comedy, but so far, nothing of what they've created has translated well in American production. "Orgasmo Adulto Escapes From the Zoo" at the Burbage is no exception.
The four pieces are called "Waking Up," "The Same Old Story," "A Woman Alone" and "I Cry Ulrike," and they're all performed by one woman, Joyce Roth. The first is a comedy of errors that follows a woman waking to her working day and trying to get baby ready for the nursery; in her haste she confuses the uses of the products around her (using paint thinner for underarm deodorant, for example), while her manikin husband sleeps the sleep of the dead.
The second is about woman as whore; that is, woman treated as whore, and submitting without real fuss to the earnest entreaties of a lover (for want of a better word) indifferent to whether or not she'll get pregnant, and what humiliation--not to mention pain--she'll have to endure at an abortion clinic. "You're alone with your body, and yourself, and your choices," she says at one point, a feminist cry feebly crushed by the reality of her experience.
"A Woman Alone," a variation on the theme of the first play, is a housewife beleaguered in an apartment, literally trapped there by her husband. She irons in her peignoir to the strains of Madonna's "Material Girl"; supervises a brother-in-law who's totally disabled, except for one hand, which he uses to grab at women; fends off a peeping Tom, an obscene phone caller and the attempt of a 15-year-old lover to break into the apartment--all while her husband is calling in frequently to check on her.
It may be that Fo and Rame, as improvisational clowns graced with Italian antic spirit (as we've seen with "Les Colombaioni"), are able to take the situation of these playlets and jam on them like jazz artists, finding the fun and the moment in different places on different nights. But the scripted version here has the feel of having been set in cement (Estelle Parsons is translator, R. S. Bailey is director). Roth is a strong, indeed sturdy performer, but she's also flat and hard, and devoid of the grace of the comedienne.
"I Cry Ulrike," contrastingly, is short and lean and benefits from a compact translation by Adam Leipzig.
It is a statement from prison by the German radical Ulrike Meinhoff in which we see her mind filled to the point of nausea with sinister, oppressive, brutish images of the power apparatus of the German state. In a solo portrayal such as this, there's no room for dissent from her dissent. But those images are powerful; we see in her character a fiercely aesthetic, as opposed to a purely political, reaction. It might have been done better at the beginning of the bill. As it is, we're fairly bludgeoned by the noisy inertia of the plays preceding it.
Performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., Sundays 7:30 p.m., at 2330 Sawtelle Blvd., West Los Angeles, (213) 478-0897, through March 23.