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Theatre Journal 52.3 (2000) 420-421
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In the House of the Moles
In the House of the Moles. By Terry Galloway. Rude Mechanicals, Austin, Texas. 16 March 2000.
In the last four years the Rude Mechanicals have established themselves in Austin (and increasingly on a national level) as an inventive, collaborative, experimental troupe with an intellectually rigorous foundation and an appreciation for messy, pushy, and loudly comedic touches. The company has primarily presented original plays written by Playwright-in-Residence Kirk Lynn or adaptations, such as its fall 1999 production of Lipstick Traces (from the book of the same name by Greil Marcus). Focused on testing new ideas and structures through their productions, it made sense for Rude Mechanicals to collaborate with performance artist Terry Galloway on In the House of the Moles, Galloway's first full-length play. Likewise, Galloway's choice to debut In the House of the Moles with an Austin theatre company is particularly apt, as that is where she began her performance career.
In the House of the Moles mixes profane comedy with sudden twinges of melancholy, while questioning how women are culturally identified, the potential artificiality of femininity, and the trouble caused by female intellectuals (particularly queer female intellectuals). The plot involves four sisters mourning/celebrating the death of Peg, their mother, by performing her autobiographical play, which is written in a vaudevillian style. Peg's most recent lover joins them. The stage version of Peg's life employs a combination of a restructured Hamlet, burlesque music and comedy numbers, Punch and Judy, and plays within a play within a play.
An effective production of In the House of the Moles requires that the cast and crew have a clear understanding of and commitment to Galloway's left-wing politics, a penchant for literary analysis, and a love of both slapstick and sarcasm. Rude Mechanicals ably took on Galloway's text, shaping In the House of the Moles into a production undeniably and effectively complex. Director Shawn Sides began the play by putting Peg's (Phyllis Slattery) introductory monologue, and death, on film which was projected onto a front curtain. Slattery's only other "appearances" in the play were as the voice [End Page 420] of Peg's ghost, and again on film (projected onto an upstage curtain) as the ghost of Puppet Judy. The curtains used for the film projections created an unstable, ephemeral surface that emphasized the separation between Peg and her daughters' difficulties with the live performance of her personal history. Sides's use of Slattery on film and in voice-over connected the audience specifically with the live actors performing on the stage--Peg's demands on her daughters reverberated throughout the theatre's sound system, surrounding audience and actors simultaneously as she bellowed, "Live, love, get the fuck up!"
The eerie and comical presence of Slattery was juxtaposed against the live cast, who fluctuated between performing Peg's daughters--Boaz (Madge Darlington), Inga (Catherine Glynn), Jinx (Lana Lesley), Wark (Sarah Richardson)--and her lover, Schultz (Jon Watson) as well as the characters in Peg's autobiography. The intricacy of these transitions at times confused the plot, but Sides's attention to focused, punctuated movement helped simplify these moments. Such focus was particularly visible in Glynn's ability to make distinct shifts between roles, often with one simple gesture. Watson, in his roles as both Schultz and the Doctor functioned as the play's straight man, which he handled with occasional frustrated sarcasm. His frustration was particularly apparent in the character of Schultz, as he attempted to figure out the peculiarities in the four sisters' relationship to their mother.
Early in Peg's play, the character of Mr. Punch, played by a sinister Darlington, emerged as an evil symbol of capitalism and patriarchy against whom the rest of the characters fought. Mr. Punch beat the other characters in traditional style with an enormous slapstick, which was also used as a gigantic penis to make lewd suggestions to the female characters. However, no one fought harder against Mr. Punch than his...