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THEATER BEAT

Solid Writing, Acting Give Power to 'A Rage in Tenure'

June 23, 1995|PHILIP BRANDES

The post-feminist battleground of male-female relations is the principal territory insightfully explored in "A Rage in Tenure," Dorothy Lyman's well-written and brilliantly performed new play at Theatre Geo. Yet Lyman honors the complexity of her theme--and the intelligence of her audience--by weaving into her protagonists' troubled marriage a wide-ranging, untidy clutter of real-life issues.

Advancing middle age, career sacrifices and a generational clash all come to a boiling point for Louise Osterman, a controversial Women's Studies professor, convincingly played by Lyman as a fierce intellectual with an emotional blind spot. Both her brilliance and her thoughtlessness are apparent in the way she patronizes her devoted husband, James (James F. Kelly), who has spent more than 20 years in her illustrious shadow.

Kelly's impeccably shaded performance fools us into dismissing James as the kind of amiable but passive lap-dog a stereotypical feminist would keep as a pet. But Louise's recent resignation in protest over her prestigious university's "good old boy" tenure policies has shifted the dynamics of their relationship, both economically and psychologically--and Kelly reveals unexpected strengths and depth of character in James' growing assertiveness.

Their inevitable confrontation is provoked by Louise's magazine interview with a conniving would-be journalist (Mariah O'Brien), who flaunts the kind of male-pleasing, sexually exploitative tactics that drive Louise into a self-righteous feminist rage. Yet O'Brien's clarity and self-determination ensure we see her side too.

Overextended first-act polemics between Louise and her interviewer, while helpful in establishing their points of view, set an abstract tone that doesn't do justice to the emotional powerhouse that follows. Their debate could be pared to its most pointed conclusions, and their attitudes could be revealed through behavior.

Beneath the rational argument, Lyman eloquently uncovers a deeper truth--relationships can either be based on love or power. Somehow, despite their best intentions, James and Louise have lapsed into the latter, and their future happiness depends on finding their way back.

* "A Rage in Tenure," Theatre Geo, 1229 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends July 2. $20. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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