Handmaids’ tales

Factory Theater takes a stab at stories like The Handmaid’s Tale and The Stepford Wives (that suburban dystopia envisioned originally by novelist Ira Levin in 1972, and then translated to screen in 1975 and 2004). In The HOA, written by Angelina Martinez and directed by Christy Arington, a couple of the characters even use “SWP” (for “Stepford Wives Paranoia”) as shorthand for “Things are getting weird, right?” as the story unfolds. 

The HOAThrough 10/20: Fri-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Factory Theater, 1623 W. Howard, 866-811-4111, thefactorytheater.com, $25

Cassie (Jennifer Betancourt) and Steve (Andrew Cawley) are the new kids on the cul-de-sac in a suburb where all the husbands seem to have landed great jobs at nearby companies—jobs so lucrative that their wives don’t have to work. And in fact, Cassie’s desire to keep working as a chemist for a pharmaceutical company is met with disbelief by most of the other women at the block party where Martinez’s play opens. Hosted by HOA president Syd (Eric Fredrickson) and his wife, Stephanie (Moira Begale), it’s clear that this event is almost like a multilevel marketing scheme for roping Steve and Cassie into what Syd and Stephanie are selling. Well, giving away, actually: almost everyone seems to swear by the supplements that Stephanie hands out like Tic Tacs.

Steve takes the bait faster than Cassie, who finds emotional sustenance with new friends and fellow Stephanie/Syd skeptics Maddie (Brittany Ellis) and Daphne (Ashley Yates). But when they start acting as vacuous and servile as the other women, Cassie leaps into action to save them.

Until she doesn’t. The play works well enough as a pastiche/homage to the brainwashing effects of the inner workings of patriarchy. Begale’s cunning performance suggests that it takes smart women to figure out how to make other women choose the gilded cage. But the ending is confusing, frankly; we are left unsure as to whether Cassie is doing a “defeat them from within” strategy, or if she’s just decided, “Fuck it, this shit’s too hard, I’m just gonna go with the flow.” Either way, it feels overly abrupt and unearned—particularly since we don’t see enough development of Steve and Cassie’s previous relationship to figure out why she’d be willing to give up everything for him. If that’s what she’s doing.

Those caveats aside, the show succeeds at what Factory always does best: high-octane performances that dance along the edge of caricature without falling all the way into the abyss of obvious cheap laughs. The depiction of how an HOA can go from mildly annoying to dictatorial (“Syd’s got a guy for everything,” one character says, by way of explaining why nobody ever hires anyone without clearing it with the HOA honcho) is spot-on. I don’t think we needed the strobe-light effects, but when Factory decides to go over the top, they always do so with gleeful abandon. It’s a fun 90 minutes, even if the last few moments left me scratching my head.

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