Theatre review: Pizza Man
This is the play that has won Darlene Craviotto as much criticism as it has praise since the work was published in 1986. While her allusion that it is impossible for men to be raped by women has been challenged, the piercing wit and sharp humour of her writing is fiercely admired.
And now, nearly three decades later, and half a world away from Craviotto’s native home in the United States, Pizza Man, whom Doppelganger Theatre has wonderfully coaxed into its members’ living room, or a semblance of their living room, continues to stir emotions and to draw applause.
It is Friday night. Julie, depressed about being date-less and job-less — newly laid off for refusing her employer’s sexual advances — turns to drink and loud music to drown out her sorrows. Alice, her room-mate, stomps in and starts throwing out gifts from the married man she has been dating, who has also this day decided to return to his wife at home; she seeks out food to fill her inner void.
Recognising their self-abuse as “misplaced anger” caused by masculinity in general, Julie persuades Alice to participate in a vengeful plot to commit rape on any vulnerable male. Then, through the door, and into their trap, walks Eddie, the eponymous pizza man.
The canvas is small — two single girls in NYC, one pizza man, and a living room — but the satire runs deep. Far from carrying the feminists’ banner and from being an advocate of the sexual revolution, the playwright pokes fun at her own gender — indeed, if she were a man, Craviotto could well be accused of violent misogyny. But more than that, what the play really sets out to do is to demonstrate the futility (however arguable) of women’s efforts for sexual equality.
The scenes are embarrassingly truthful and delivered with uncompromising honesty in Celeste Markwell’s taut production. Set in a space above a bustling pizza joint, exquisitely furnished with dial phone, timber television, and an unwieldy stereo set, doused with a soundscape that brings to life Michael Jackson and Madonna in the glory of their prime — not to mention the actors’ remarkable accent — Markwell’s staging draws us into this particular 1980s American comedy. Despite the absence of proper theatre lights that could have otherwise obscured the jump in sequences, the message has in no way been unduly jeopardised.
Chemistry between the two women, Loren de Jong as Julie and Kasey Gambling as Alice, is superlative; the advantage of being real-life housemates certainly shows. As part of the play’s motif of role reversals, we see de Jong’s seamless transition from the cool, stoic divorcee, the one with the self-control, to the physically aggressive femme fatale unbridled in her implacable resolve to exact revenge. Gambling, too, shines as she is transfigured from the frivolous character, with questionable morality, to the sensible voice repeatedly urging Julie to call off the game. Nevertheless, laurels still go to Doug Lyons. His actorly assurance, portraying Eddie’s flattered bewilderment at his good fortune before revealing his own insecurities, is altogether beyond reproach.
In spite of Craviotto’s undermining of her own kind — women know they are a great deal more cunning than she suggests –this is an infuriatingly candid piece of theatre that ridicules the feminist of the day and exposes what most women really want: to marry well and have children, as unfashionable, even humiliating, as this may be.