By: Wendy MacLeod
At: First Folio Theatre, 1717 31st St., Oak Brook. Tickets: 6330/986-8067, FirstFolio.org; $34-$39. Runs through: Feb. 25
You can't fault the cast in First Folio Theatre's staging of Wendy MacLeod's Women in Jeopardy. But here's the thing: MacLeod takes a brutally misogynistic murder and treats it as a kooky comedy. There's nothing remotely amusing about a 22-year-old getting butchered, her dismembered body left outdoors to rot. There's something deeply wrong with wrapping a whacky rom-com around such an event.
Watching Women in Jeopardy, I kept thinking of the hundreds of women who have disappeared or been murdered near the border of El Paso, Texas, and Mexico. Amnesty International put the number at nearly 400 in 2005. In the 13 years since, law enforcement agencies have literally be unable keep a count of how many women have been killed in the area. Women in Jeopardy takes something that is a nightmarish reality in the real world and dismisses with slapstick. That's not just offensiveit's harmful. The last thing the world needs is more people diminishing, disregarding or outright ridiculing the very real dangers that women face every single damn day of their lives.
Directed by Janice L. Blixt, Women in Jeopardy is endurable only because of its top-notch cast. The actors are impressive, even within the confines of such a heinous script. The piece starts out with some promise. Longtime friends Mary ( Amy Montgomery ), Jo ( Lydia Berger Gray ) and Liz ( Melanie Keller ) are gathered for a night of wine and girl-time.
There's trouble because Liz has brought her creepy new boyfriend Jackson ( Joe Foust ) along. Jo and Mary don't like him, initially because his behavior is so odd and, later, because they think he might be a serial killer. They are horrified when they learn Jackson and Liz's 19-year-old daughter Amanda ( Hayley Burgess ) are planning a remote-wilderness camping trip that doesn't include Liz. ( By the way, what even is that? What fortysomething woman would send her new boyfriend with her 19-year-old daughter on a camping trip together? ) The camping trip sets up the second act for a prolonged sight gag involving sex in a pup tent. It's amusing for about 20 seconds. It seems interminable.
Jo and Mary's fears are heightened when one of Jackson's staffhe's a dentistvanishes. Jackson was the last person to see her alive, when he loaned her the movie Silence of the Lambs. Liz insists Jackson is a wonderful guy, and no, it's not inappropriate in the least that loaned that film to one of his young, female employees. Also on the scene: Amanda's on-and-off boyfriend Trenner ( Christopher Vizurraga ), who has thing for Mary. Finally, there's Detective Kirk ( Foust ), a cop who happens to look exactly like Jackson.
There are some clever bits of dialogue. As Mary, Jo and Liz, Montgomery, Gray and Keller are wholly believable as women whose friendship has stood the test of time, along with various husbands, ex-husbands and boyfriends. Vizurraga is a hoot as Amanda's uber-chill boyfriend, and Foust has a lock on playing creepy/weird.
Still, there's no redeeming Women in Jeopardy. It's the wrong play at the wrong time. And if there is a right time for this piece, I cannot imagine when that might be.