Jane Martin’s “Talking With … ” gives voice to 11 women on the fringes of American normality at The Players. Their voices and stories have an unmistakable flavor of Southern-fried surrealism. These include: an unhappy housewife (Tammy Halsted) subsumed in the character of The Patchwork Girl of Oz; an actress (Lynne Doyle) who demands biographies and “lacerating self-exposure” from the audience; a baton twirler (Lauren Ward) who’s had one hand stomped by a horse and is now either part of a self-mutilating baton-twirling cult or just plain nuts; and an aspiring actress (Amanda Heisey) who steals National Lampoon’s “Buy This Magazine or We’ll Kill this Dog” gimmick at her audition.
There is also a woman (Alana Opie) mourning the death of her mother, who tracked her final days with glass marbles; an old-school rodeo rider (Debbi White) who longs for the pre-Disney days “When people rode horses for other people who rode horses”; a phototropic woman (Sandra Musicante) who’s crammed her apartment with lamps and memories; a woman (Betty Robinson) who sees healing power in Big Macs; a woman (Kelly Turner) on the verge of giving birth to a dragon — or a baby with birth defects; a snake handler (Miranda Margolis) who gets into the inside baseball of working with vipers; and a quietly desperate divorced woman (Leona Collesano) who realizes her full human potential thanks to a jilted musician’s knife.
Nothing gets in the way of your close encounter with these odd characters.
Disturbing? Truly. Funny? Often. Both? More often than not. Real? Based on my experience, these characters are all too real, and not the usual suspects whatsoever. Director Tim Fitzgerald presents these monologues with minimal bits of business and sparse but evocative staging. Each actor gets a chance to shine. The characters they portray fully emerge.
And what an odd bunch they are.
Some wallow in narcissism and self-pity. Some deal with loss and life’s insults with incredible inner strength. Some are only visiting Crazy Town. Others live there.
These are not the folks you’d want to talk to on a long bus ride.
Thanks to Martin’s play, you hear their stories anyway.
Martin, while we’re on the subject, may or may not be real. “She” may be a pseudonym. Or, like Thomas Pynchon, just really, really hate publicity. According to theatrical legend “her” play mysteriously appeared at the Actors Theater of Louisville, Ky., in 1982. The playwright has gone onto a stellar career — and remained impossibly hard to find to this day. Even though Martin may not be real, these characters are.
Having gone on many weird bus rides through the South myself, I’ve met quite a few of them.
IF YOU GO
“Talking With … " runs through Aug. 17, at Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. For more information, call 365-2494 or visit theplayers.org.