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Timeless 'Voices'

Rich Characterizations and Imaginative Staging Give This '70s Play Relevance Today

September 14, 1996|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FULLERTON — The women in playwright Susan Griffin's "Voices" speak from a period that has passed. The play was written in the 1970s, and its attitudes and even many of its references are echoes of the women of that time.

But, oddly, the play--being staged by the Vanguard Theatre Ensemble--is not as dated as you might expect. Because although these women with their particular and individual perspectives could not exist at any other time, what they have to say about the female condition is timeless.

They speak of freedom in its many-splendored forms. They are all trapped within their own worlds, prisoners of convention, attitude, obligation, duty and, well, love.

Kate is an actress who has played many roles except that of a real woman; she says, sadly, "Just think, I might have been the wife of a French actor." Erin believes that her insane mother, the suicide of her twin brother and a childhood spent shuttling between relatives have shorn her of any reason for living.

The submissive Grace raised four children and bemoans the things she gave up for that privilege. Maya's socialist activist parents willed her an inability to coexist in a world shrouded in convention, and Rosalinde is an artist whose idealism leads her into the false utopia of hippie communes.

"Voices" isn't really a play in the conventional sense of the word. It's a series of monologues from each of these women, sometimes interwoven into a more theatrical fabric as the piece slowly develops into what amounts to a chorus of voices that eventually peaks with oddly ill-fitting references to abuses against women down through the ages.

What holds the attention is the basic honesty of the writing before it becomes political, and the evidence of the courage and hope that women have developed in this century, and the various movements that have brought many women out of the shadows into the visible world.

What makes this revival work so well is the delicate and insightful guidance of director Laurel Kelsh Jones. Her staging in the small Vanguard space is imaginative and highly theatrical and provides the actresses with another tool to help fulfill their rich characterizations.


Jones' casting is impeccable, each actress ideally suited to the woman she is portraying. Alexandra Robertson's Grace, who wanted to be a teacher but settled for being a housewife, is gentle and faintly happy with her lot, but not complacent. Brenda Parks' Maya has a solid core of purpose, inherited from Maya's parents, and Elizabeth Swenson's Rosalinde has the fresh air of her utter idealism.

Joanne Underwood's stylish veneer of hauteur as Kate doesn't conceal the actress' equally stylish sense of humor, especially about herself. Cheryl Etzel gives a touchingly sharp, jagged edge to her characterization of the tragic Erin, particularly in the section where she describes her brother's sudden death from an overdose.

These are yesterday's voices, but the basic statement underlying the play's reason for being written has been given authority by the sensitive and judicious care taken in this thoughtful revival.

* "Voices," Vanguard Theatre Ensemble, 699A S. State College Blvd., Fullerton. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Ends Sept. 28. $10. (714) 526-8007. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.



Brenda Parks: Maya

Joanne Underwood: Kate

Cheryl Etzel: Erin

Elizabeth Swenson: Rosalinde

Alexandra Robertson: Grace

A Vanguard Theatre Ensemble production of Susan Griffin's play. Produced by Peter Balaskas. Directed by Laurel Kelsh Jones. Lighting design: James Cude. Sound design: K. Robert Eaton. Original music: Kathryn Etzel.

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