Living in the French Quarter (where I've lived since I arrived in New Orleans 30 years ago), you are apt to forget that there are still vast stretches of the United States where "the love that dare not speak its name" is still just that. Of course, the recent Louisiana constitutional amendment that outlawed same-sex marriages reminds us those vast stretches reach right to our doorsteps.
I bring up gay marriage because it's the subject of Lewis Routh's new play Sunny & Pea, which premiered recently at the Marigny Theater. Routh arrived in town a few years ago and began showcasing his skills at the Marigny -- which until recently was named Cowpokes because of the adjacent bar. The Marigny is a theater with a theme; something about the gay and/or lesbian world, lifestyle, viewpoint, joy, angst or whatever is usually featured in the scripts that are presented there. This is not to say Marigny productions are only entertaining if your amatory interests center on individuals of your own sex.
Although Routh has given us plays about gays -- like last year's Bar Angel -- he first showed his writing and acting talents locally with People Come and Go So Quickly Here!, which was a broad comedy about a trailer park.
The Sunny and Pea of the title of Routh's new venture are a pair of lesbians who have been living together as a couple for 12 or so years. Now, they've decided to get married. Legal or not, they want to have a ceremony of commitment. This decision drives the play, but it's not what the play is about. It's about the day Pea "comes out" to her mother.
Sunny is the first character we meet. She's busy putting away Christmas. In fact, when the curtains open, she has just denuded the (artificial) Christmas tree of all its ornaments. The androgynous-looking Sunny (Karen Shields) is a plump woman with short hair who wears a black-and-white sweat suit. Sunny has an amiable, humorous manner. She seems comfortably out-of-the-closet -- except in some touchy situations, like with her future mother-in-law. Sunny has visited Pea's family many times, but refrained from a certain kind of open affection with Pea out of respect for the gods of hearth and home. Soon enough, Pea bursts in on Sunny in a state of nervous agitation. She is returning from the climactic revelation of her sexuality to her mother. It went worse than she ever could have expected.
Here, Routh is playing with our expectations -- for we assume a conventional, politically correct plot line is being set up. But no; the disaster was that Pea's mother blandly responded that she had known for years. And to make matters worse, the matriarch kept watching television right through the supposedly earthshaking discussion.
Pea's horror is not the result of her mother's bigotry, but of her own total misreading of the situation. What happened is the psychosexual equivalent of one of those false executions, where a political prisoner is dragged out in front of a firing squad and then not shot. In any case, Pea is in a sort of post-non-traumatic shock, which in her case is indistinguishable from real post-traumatic shock.
Pea (Wendy Carol) has blond hair, which if not quite long, is nonetheless long enough to pass for "normal," straight, feminine -- her sweat suit is pink. So when her mother tells her that Sunny referred to Pea as a "bull dyke," Pea is doubly upset. She remains upset, even though Sunny keeps trying to withdraw the "bull" part of the description, leaving only the less inflammatory "dyke." "Are you sure she said that I said bull'?"
In the course of this one-act comedy, Sunny and Pea have quite a dust-up. Their attempts to join forces and put away the Christmas tree are a running gag that's often funny -- though not quite as often as its done.
At last, Pea's mother (Joan Blum) also bursts into the apartment. In short order, she amply justifies the epithet "ditzy-doodle" used to describe her in the playbill. It's as though Gracie Allen's ghost had returned from That Great Confusion in the Sky in order to cope with gender issues. Inevitably, "the doo-doo hits the fan," as she puts it -- for she is a lover of euphemisms and pithy platitudes. But, never fear, all ends on a happy note of tolerance and affection. In addition to writing the script, Routh also directed the production. He clearly enjoyed himself -- as did most of the audience on the evening I saw the show. In brief, it was an often amusing trifle played with spirit and a sense of fun.
- Carlos Gonzalez
- Sunny (Karen Shields) and Pea (Wendy Carol) try to move forward in their relationship in Lewis Routh's latest one-act, Sunny & Pea, recently staged at the Marigny Theater.