The joy of watching a playwright perform her own piece comes from the insight and the passion she brings to it. Especially when the playwright perceives the performance-the entire production, really-as "a chance to make fun of myself," as Susan McCully describes Inexcusable Fantasies, her whip-smart romp through absurdly outrageous queer scenarios that everyone knows should be daydreamed and neither seen nor heard.
Within the first few minutes of the production, staged at the stripped-down, black box space at the Strand, McCully's ability to poke fun at her insecurities and self-doubt as an aging (as in older than 30) lesbian with a bum cornea becomes uproariously clear-but so is her message, deftly delivered through an opening monologue and to be taken much more seriously: She's been struggling with both literal and figurative blindness and its hand-in-hand relationship with the concept of invisibility. "You can see my queer body, but can you imagine me as sexy?" she asks, draping herself seductively across a couple of multipurpose boxes and throwing her head back. "Go ahead-I'll give you a minute."
Through a series of vignettes and with the help of actresses Sarah Ford Gorman and Wendy Salkind, McCully airs main character Susan's deepest desires, gives credence to scars collected during childhood in Appalachian Pennsylvania (certainly no hotbed of gay activism) and delves into her neuroses and taboo imaginings. While McCully indicates that "some autobiographical kernel of truth" inspired the story, the piece shouldn't necessarily be assumed to be about the playwright specifically. In fact, what makes the script so poignantly hysterical is the idea that the obsessions, the irrational emotions, the painful awkwardness-while hugely hyperbolic-speak to experiences we've all shared. And isn't it refreshing to be able to laugh about them?
In my favorite vignette, McCully and Gorman go head to head over a copyediting position at Martha Stewart Living that McCully manages to turn into a highly erotic affair, as if it's impossible to imagine anything more seductive than either Martha Stewart or appropriate syntax. As the women's shared obsessive compulsion (granted, stemming from very different sources) reaches a fever pitch, the audience bubbles with laughter, and the actresses brilliantly manage a challenging script that continues to pick up speed and potency.
The simplicity of the venue contributes to the production's effectiveness as well. Its bare-bones stage, with nothing to serve as a distraction, forces focus on the acting and underscores its hugeness. And the acting is giant, exaggerated, not even close to subtle-precisely what's necessary to wrangle a script that's all about letting one's imagination run wild. Eve Muson's direction shines through in the dynamic to which the actresses contribute, a highly energized synergy that, even through the curtain call, continues to embody a mischievous wink and twinkling playfulness.
Inexcusable Fantasies provides 75 minutes of exceedingly smart (really, so smart), no-excuses amusement that leaves everyone, not just the girl in the waiting room at Martha Stewart Living, thinking, "Look, lady, what the hell is wrong with you?"
Inexcusable Fantasies runs Thursday-Sunday through Nov. 17 at the Strand Theater Co., 1823 N. Charles St. in Baltimore. Its next production, What a Girl Wants, opens Dec. 6. For more information, visit www.strand-theater.org.
Photos by Philip Laubner, courtesy of the Strand Theater Co.