Fishers Of Zen

Damesrocket's 'Zara Spook And Other Lures' Is Sweet And Funny.
By Margaret Regan

EVER SINCE CHARLOTTE Perkins Gilman wrote her ground-breaking short story "The Yellow Wallpaper," about a woman forced against her will to take a rest cure in her bedroom, wallpaper has been a shorthand feminist metaphor for the gilded cage, the domestic homefront where women once were both cossetted and confined.

But it's a bit of a surprise to see that literary symbol pop up so importantly in the play Zara Spook and Other Lures, an unabashedly feminist play set in the wide-open spaces of New Mexico. The latest production of Damesrocket, a local troupe formed last year to stage "topical plays dealing with women," the comical play features two characters who have unwittingly "wallpapered" themselves into destructive behavior patterns.

Evelyn, an anxious young West Virginia woman played by Holly Pinnell, wants to become a world-class fisherwoman. She's on her way to the annual Bass 'n' Gal tournament in New Mexico to show her stuff. But she has a bizarre obsessive habit of "typing" in the air, moving her fingers along to spell out the words uttered by everybody around her. Worse, she's got a loving fiancé, Talmadge (Patrick Burke), who frets about her so much that he habitually undermines her already shaky confidence. He's so concerned about her driving to New Mexico without him--"into another time zone!" he squeals--that he leaps into the car at the last minute in his pajamas and takes over the wheel.

Teale, played by Carlisle Ellis, is the other woman who's inadvertently wallpapered herself into a corner. Life's been so bad for her lately that she can't even enter the Bass 'n' Gal this year, though she's going along for the ride with Evelyn. Teale's husband up and left her for a Mr. Donut waitress and Teale's been saddled with a debilitating case of asthma ever since.

Once they're out in the healing West, though, these two struggling women have the good fortune to meet up with Ramona, a ribald, robust champion fisherwoman, who undertakes to help them extricate themselves from the strangulating patterns of the wallpaper they've designed for themselves. Ramona has a set of complicated patterns of her own. It's she who uses the "Zara Spook" lure of the title to catch fish effortlessly, and it's she who lures to the tournament her estranged husband, Mel, a gun-toting, hard-bitten Westerner who also has the distinction of being the most exciting man Ramona has ever known. Turned in with stoney-faced aplomb by George Dobbs, Mel has the ability to elicit guffaws just by raising an eyebrow.

Add to this mixture a loopy New Age New Yorker (Annette Hillman) longing for a mystical experience, a venomous Western diamondback rattlesnake and the biggest sow bass anybody ever saw, and you have a play that's sweet and funny, sometimes very funny.

Yet it somehow fails to gel. You can't fault the acting. Directed by Caroline Reed, the team of well-known local veterans turn in solid performances. It could be that playwright Joan Ackermann mixes her metaphors a tad too much. The wallpaper just doesn't mesh well with the wilderness theme. The play, which had its premiere at Actors Theatre of Louisville, would have done better to plumb its fishing metaphors and decipher for a non-fishing audience the lures and lore of the deep.

Zara Spook and Other Lures, a Damesrocket Theater Company production, continues at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at a.k.a. Theatre, 125 W. Congress St. Tickets are $8, with discounts available for students, seniors, artists and children. For reservations or more information, call 623-3715. TW

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