We can guess, watching Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad, that playwright Arthur Kopit had some issues with women. His two female leads are lunatics: First, a mother so fastidious and overbearing that she locks her son in a hotel room for his entire life. Second, a child-molesting slut who seems hopelessly attracted to Asperger's syndrome. Madonna and whore, mother and lover, a virginal womb and a deflowered one: This is Kopit's bipolar world, where estrogen is gunpowder and testosterone engenders innocence.
Oh Dad, Poor Dad takes place in a hotel in 1950s Havana. Madame Rosepettle is an American widow traveling the Caribbean. She's pushy, demanding, and insulting to everyone. She travels with a piranha, two Venus flytraps and her recently deceased husband, whose corpse is stuffed and hanging in the hotel closet.
Her son, Jonathan, is an obsessive-compulsive collector of stamps, coins and books. Clad in suspenders, shorts and tall black socks, Jonathan is more than a dork -- he's an over-protected son, imprisoned in his mother's room, unable to make decisions, viewing the world through a homemade telescope. Still, life is just uncomfortable until Rosalie arrives: She's a cute blonde in a pink dress, but her lust for Jonathan is comically combustible. This leads to a battle of wits between mother and girlfriend, and everything ends in insanity and death.
The "theater of the absurd" is always challenging, but Duquesne's Red Masquers have more than succeeded. Their show is energetic and well-rehearsed. As Madame Rosepettle, Rachel Noderer is a force of nature: She's fast, quippy and coldly hostile. Noderer is blessed with a beautiful smile and a robust soprano, which make her Rosepettle seem all the creepier. As Jonathan, Jacob George stutters and staggers through his awkward moments, his one-track mind convincingly autistic. And director Nancy Bachoffers some clever gimmicks: a human head painted like a fish, and two svelte women dressed as malevolent plants.
Ultimately, though, Oh Dad, Poor Dad feels more like an experiment in theatrical absurdity. Though the monologues speak of sexual paranoia and existential loathing, the story suggests a zingy Christopher Durang play that happens to take place in Cuba.
Still, while many will find Kopit's Jungian imagination a little too enthusiastic -- the cyclical lines can feel repetitive -- the Masquers have executed them marvelously. If it does nothing else, Oh Dad, Poor Dad reminds us that weirdness can be refreshing.
Oh Dad, Poor Dad continues thru Oct. 13, Peter Mills Theatre, Duquesne University campus, Uptown. Info: 412-396-6215.
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