Mary, poor woman, has had a hard day at the office, and all she wants to do is read the paper. But her husband, Harry, keeps wringing his hands over his little apron and trying to talk to her.
Mary's eyes roll. Her teeth clench. Her newspaper rattles.
"Why won't you listen!" Harry says.
"Stop getting hysterical!" she responds. But finally, Mary feels sorry for Harry, and takes him on her lap.
The audience explodes in laughter.
"It works. It works like gangbusters!" the play's director, Gary White, said with a broad smile afterward.
The short play, "Adam and Even," centered on sex discrimination, was part of a conference Jan. 31 sponsored by Pasadena City College and Glendale Community College on issues common to women over 40.
In a PCC lecture hall, an audience of about 70, mostly women, watched raptly and laughed frequently at the bittersweet comedy enacted by the Foothill Family Players.
The role-reversal scene comes during a nightmare after Harry, your basic macho boss, has termed his capable secretary "a pushy broad" for wanting a promotion to a key position in the company. (Somehow, despite his offensive lines, actor David Nicholson manages to come off as misguided but likable.)
Judging from the response of the audience, many of the women seemed to be familiar with the type of discrimination faced by the secretary, played by Christine Schneider.
Audrey Oppenheimer, who founded the acting troupe last year, said that such frustrations can undermine mental health.
"I see people who break down when they don't do some of the things the play portrays" in trying to surmount sexism, he said.
Oppenheimer, a social worker for 25 years, is a family life education coordinator at Foothill Family Service, a nonprofit social service agency in Pasadena. A play on AIDS and one on the stresses of a two-career marriage will come next, she said, and eventually the hope is to present them in repertory.
The purpose of the plays, Oppenheimer said, is not to present solutions but to stimulate thought and discussion.
"Of course, today, we're preaching to the converted," White conceded after the PCC performance.
Her observation was confirmed by the audience response; the laughs seemed to be rooted in recognition.
Not strong enough? "After lifting 40 pound of kids all these years, not strong enough?" comments one of the women players.
Or When Harry, converted to a less prejudiced approach after his nightmare, responds to the idea of his wife's joining the labor force again: "It's up to you."
Actress Sharon Conley takes a long pause, then levels him with a look that tells it all: exasperation, tolerance, amusement, incredulity and a few more fleeting and contradictory emotions.
"I know, Harry," she says.
She brought down the house.
Under the Players' format, a discussion immediately followed the play.
The initial style of moderator Valerie Hunt--senior administrative specialist and assistant to the executive director of Pasadena Commission on the Status of Women--could be called "pounce and persuade."
"How do you break down the barriers? . . . What do you do when you're out there by yourself? . . . How do you handle the frustration?" She prowled in front of the audience, peppering it with questions.
If no hand went up, she called on someone, and if the audience member mumbled something noncommittal, Hunt asked a follow-up question to elicit a coherent answer.
Then the opinions and statements started to flow:
"I felt sorry for Harry because I think men are trapped in their roles too."
"I had a problem with so many things being related to a husband. For a lot of us (single women), what's a husband?"
"When I go out to apply for a job, how do you deal with the gentlemen of the world whose minds were shaped a century ago?"
Another woman said the single-parent family is responsible for a lot of sex stereotyping breaking down. Hunt concurred, saying, "Today, Mommy's not just someone to make it feel better when you skin your knee."
When sex discrimination ends, Hunt predicted, it will come about through the effort of individuals.
Actors Nicholson, Schneider, Conley and Joan Markowitz, the four individuals in the cast of "Adam and Even," all have professional acting credits--and ideals.
They each earn $20 a performance.
And a lot of bittersweet laughs.