Amanda is a 25-year-old oboist and aspiring symphonic composer, though these
days she’s settled for a mundane job writing jingles that are deliberately
annoying because those are the kind that stick in your head. The oboe, she tells
us in one of her many asides to the audience, is “the Hamlet of musical
instruments.”  If played poorly it sounds like a dying duck. If played well, it is the
instrument which best approximates the human voice.  It is the oboe which
tunes the entire orchestra, Amanda informs us.

She is engaged to Jack, a “voice major with star quality,” meaning that “a
normal person thinks that you could sleep with him.” To illustrate just how
hooked Amanda is on this good-looking hunk of a man, Amanda tells him, “I’m
working on a woodwind quartet, but I can easily change the oboe part to
voice.”  That Amanda is willing to sublimate her instrument to his voice is a
metaphor for one of the main themes of Sarah Treem’s fine and funny new play
A Feminine Ending, getting its west coast premiere at South Coast Repertory.
Just as Amanda is willing to rewrite her quartet, she is equally willing to rewrite
her life to fit Jack’s, in the same way that (we later learn) her mother herself did
when she married Amanda’s father.

Overjoyed as Amanda is to be Jack’s future wife, her mother and Jack’s
manager Hillary do not share her enthusiasm. Mom hangs up on daughter upon
learning of the engagement, and Hillary tells Jack that marriage for a rock star is
out, though it would be acceptable if he and Amanda had a child out of
wedlock. Jack himself seems somewhat more excited about his career than he
does about marrying Amanda.  When a fan mails him a bloody tampon, Jack
sees it as a good sign.  According to Hillary, “it means I’m developing a fan base.”

Amanda’s life becomes more complicated when her mother Kim informs her
that she’s leaving Amanda’s father and plans on moving in with Amanda for
three months.  “You lived in my house for 18 years,” Kim tells her disbelieving
daughter.  “Time is relative.” As to marrying Jack, mom suggests that Amanda
let him marry someone else because “famous people never stay with their first
wives.”  Amanda would do better to wait until after his first divorce. In any case,
she should not follow her mother’s example by putting dreams on hold because
she “wanted to find a guy before they all ran out.”  “I told you that you didn’t
have to compromise anything,” Kim tells her daughter.  “It wasn’t true.  We
cannot both be housewives. One of us has to lead an extraordinary life.”

Further complicating Amanda’s life is a reunion with childhood best friend and
sweetheart Billy, a postman of the quirky variety. How quirky, you may ask. Well,
on the plus side, Billy always puts personal letters on top of bills when he delivers
them, and if there are no letters, he simply waits a few days. If there’s still no
personal mail, he’ll send a postcard himself, signed “a friend.” Less pleasant is
Billy’s habit of delivering the mail at night because that’s when the lights are on
and he can see inside the houses.  “That’s voyeurism,” says Amanda to which
Billy responds, “Wow!  You’ve really become a glass half empty kind of girl.”

Which direction Amanda chooses for her life (whether to marry Jack or get back
together with Billy, whether to support her mother’s decision or take her father’s
side, and most importantly, whether she will pursue serious musical composition
without any guarantee of success or continue selling out)—these are the themes
of Treem’s 21st century feminist comedy/drama.

As the above synopsis should indicate, Treem is a smart, original new voice. Her A
Feminine Ending features clever and often very funny dialog, whose intelligence
elevates it above the sitcom level as its plot moves in unexpected directions.
Treem understands the differences in the ways men and women think and
behave and has created five interesting, flawed, yet mostly sympathetic
characters, a gift to the quintet of actors fortunate to play them.

Amanda is brought to life by the lovely Brooke Bloom, eminently believable as a
talented and intelligent (though not always brave) young woman of the new
millennium.  I had seen Bloom’s excellent understudy performance in Pera Palas a
few years back, and this compelling star turn only confirmed my initial impression
of an actress with a unique beauty and stage presence.

Peter Katona is equally credible as a young rock star on the rise. In his black
boxer briefs, Katona makes it easy to see how Jack’s sex appeal would inspire
fanatic fans (e.g., the one who sent the feminine hygiene product).  Add to that
an melodious singing voice, too briefly on display, and you have a leading man
on the rise.

As Kim, Amy Aquino (whom I knew mostly from her memorable turn in Working
Girl—she was Melanie Griffith’s secretary at the end of the movie, the one whom
Melanie thinks at first she is to work for) gives a beautifully comedic, three-
dimensional portrait of a talented woman who chose marriage over career and
has lived to have second thoughts.

Alan Blumenfeld is excellent Amanda’s salt-of-the-earth father David, an
ordinary guy currently unable to give his wife the extraordinary she’s seeking in
her life.

Finally, there’s Jedadiah Schultz (great name!), a young Jack Nicholson, as
postman Billy, who seems (at least at first) to embody the kind of stability and
commitment that Amanda has been seeking from her rocker fiancé.  Like
Nicholson, Schultz has a sly sexiness that could easily turn Amanda’s head from
her more conventionally “hot” boyfriend.

A Feminine Ending was directed by Timothy Douglas, who keeps his actors
grounded in reality despite the play’s many laugh lines.

South Coast Rep has assembled its usual fine design team, led by Tony Cisek,
who has created an elegant dark blue semi-circular wall which transforms itself
ingeniously into Amanda’s apartment, her family home, and various other
locales, with Peter Maradudin’s lighting complementing it perfectly. Vincent
Oliveri has composed appropriately oboe-based background music utilized in
Colbert S. Davis IV’s excellent sound design.  Candice Cain’s costumes reveal
much about the people who are wearing them.

It is always a pleasure to head down to Costa Mesa to see productions at South
Coast Rep. Though a bit of a drive, depending on where in Los Angeles you
happen to live, it’s well worth the time and gas.  A Feminine Ending is a new play
that not only entertains but provokes thought as well. What more can one ask

Julianne Argyros Stage, South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa

–Steven Stanley
January 12, 2008
Photos: Henry DiRocco

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