As a stage play, Twinhead Theatre's Resisting the Birthmark at PushPush Theater is dense and difficult. As a piece of literary criticism, however, it's intriguing and off-the-wall.
In part, playwright and Georgia State University professor Gayle Austin presents a theatrical adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's oft-taught 1843 short story "The Birthmark." Aylmer (John McLouth), a scientist, finds himself revolted by a birthmark on the cheek of his otherwise beautiful young bride, Georgiana (Angelyn Pass), who is dressed like a 1950s housewife. The facial blemish resembles a dainty pink handprint and serves as one of those flexible symbols of Hawthorne's trademark, like the scarlet letter or the minister's black veil.
While Aylmer suggests a life-threatening medical procedure to remove the discoloration from Georgiana's face, a trio of feminist critics (Kristi DeVille, Dana Miller and vocalist Laura Krueger) provides running commentary on the story as it unfolds. Despite their academic language, they score some interesting points. Since, historically, most writers have been male, female critics should challenge the assumptions of the work and be "a resisting rather than an assenting reader."
Director Deisha Oliver doesn't present the critical chorus as the show's heroines, speaking truth to the white male oppressors of Hawthorne's era. Instead, as they espouse their beliefs in "the sexual politics of idealization" and other points of view, they seem like control freaks as much as Aylmer does. They seem to equate Aylmer's beliefs with Hawthorne's own and even come across as clownish -- one talks while trying to put her ankle behind her neck. (Also, several of the actresses have visible tattoos, which may be a coincidence, but may be a sign of their characters' solidarity with Georgiana.)
Twinhead Theatre also presents Austin's Stand-In Sister at Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery from July 28-30, and will stage Resisting the Birthmark at the 2006 Minnesota Fringe Festival in August. Twinhead clearly grooves on Austin's avant-garde approach that messes with theatrical forms: At one point, the leads switch their roles, so McLouth plays Georgiana and vice versa, turning gender notions on their head. Audiences used to conventional theater will find it easy to resist Birthmark, with its purposefully flat characterizations. The play unquestionably provides fresh perspectives for reading classics through new eyes.
Resisting the Birthmark. Through July 29. $10. Thurs.-Sat., 8 and 10 p.m. PushPush Theater, 121 New St., Decatur. www.pushpushtheater.com.
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