Bev, Wendi, Jetta and Carol have a lot of problems.
Bev's husband has inconveniently up and died, leaving her penniless and with a rocker teen-age son to rear. Divorced Carol is looking for love. Jetta's husband is prone to snide hissy-fits--especially when she serves him frozen, rather than freshly squeezed, grape juice. Wendi's boyfriend pays more attention to his prize-winning fish than to her. What's a woman to do?
Rebel, of course. Get liberated. Start a punk rock band. Say goodby to pert coifs and sensible shoes, hello to corsets, chains, leather jackets and pink hair. It's A.M. Collins and Chad Henry's Cinderella-story of hard rock, "Angry Housewives," a rambunctious musical that is still running strong after five years in Seattle--and has apparently hit a responsive chord at the Odyssey Theatre.
"My character is totally downtrodden, a slave to her husband," said Joan Ryan, who plays timid Jetta. "I don't think it's a caricature. Maybe an exaggeration. But I have a girlfriend who's married to an attorney. When her husband says, 'Eat,' she eats. When he says, 'We're leaving now,' they leave. One time a woman in the audience grabbed a guy sitting next to her and said, 'You don't understand. I'm a housewife. This is real.' "
The recognition hits on a lot of levels. "Everyone gets into this show," Gail Johnston (the frustrated widow, Bev) said of the feminist theme. "Men like it. But women \o7 love\f7 it. They walk out of here with a real macho attitude."
"The beginning of the show is all about camaraderie, the strength of the women, the power between them," said Kathy Garrick, who plays the lonely, compulsive eater, Carol. "So when I see overweight women in the audience I kind of watch them react: 'All \o7 right\f7 . She's getting the love.' I love seeing them relate to it and light up with it. The audience really goes through this with us. When Jetta's husband comes out and makes condescending remarks to her, people boo."
It's all in fun. So are the high-octane (and high-octave) punk songs--such as "Eat Your \o7 !*$! \f7 Cornflakes"--which Ryan delivers in authentic howl. "We tried toning down those numbers and not screaming so much," she said, "but the effect on the audience was not the same. So what I have to do--and it's really hard for me--is not talk on the phone all day."
Psychic resting is a definite requirement, as is an absence of post-play socializing. "It takes so much energy to get this show pounding," Garrick noted. "It feels like 'On your mark, get set, go.' Then it really takes off."
The race isn't without casualties. "We're so close that sometimes we forget and call each other by our real names up there," Ryan said, smiling. Added Marti Muller, who plays Wendi, the brainstormer of the group: "Look, it's just the four of us in those women scenes. You can tell if there's chemistry. If people care about each other--as we do--well, that's what it's all about. So it's not difficult to pick up your tush and come in here five nights a week and belt your brains out."
With all the belting and prancing and posing comes a proud, flagrant sexuality, something the women enjoy playing with. "I feel especially sexy with Bev," Johnston said. "She's so repressed--kind of like Doris Day--then all of a sudden she comes out of her shell." On a personal note, Garrick added, "It's so much fun to strut your stuff, let all your inhibitions go. The wilder you get, the better it is."
Even in front of parents?
Ryan beams as she recalls the night she performed her signature number (and emptied her cereal box) directly on her father, after which her mother proudly told the women behind her, 'That's my daughter.' " Muller's father, however, wasn't quite as comfortable with her punk look. "He came backstage," she recalled ruefully, "and said, 'I didn't give birth to those legs.' "
The liberation is often aural as well as visual. "I love dressing up and saying the f-word," Ryan said blissfully. "When we were first sitting around reading this, I said to Marti, 'How am I ever going to do this?' But, really, it's turned out to be so freeing. I don't swear that much in real life; since I started doing this show, every other word is the f-word. My husband can't believe it. He says, 'Honey, what's happened to your mouth?' "