The Other F Word, written by Alyson Mead and directed by Danielle Ozymandias at the Lounge Theatre in conjunction with the Hollywood Fringe Festival, is the story of four women who form part of a focus group to gauge market responses to a pen made just made for women.
But we see neither the pen nor the woman, Tammy, asking the questions. In fact, we never hear the questions. All we hear are the responses and the stream-of-conscious running commentary on the selection process, the focus group itself, and its aftermath, interspersed with musings on their separate lives. The women never address each other. What's it about then, if not that pen? It's about the impact the focus group had on the women.
The premise is tongue in cheek. The idea of a pen for women, pink, no less, seems so 1968 (think of those Virginia Slims cigarette commercials.) Imagine doing something similar now. The responses to the focus questions -- and to the digital comments that follow the pen's market launch -- are funny. Some, in fact, are hilarious. Of course phallic and phallic-substitute (where do you put the batteries?) references abound. Of course reactions to the launch become a meme. And of course the dialogue, as would be expected from such a broad demographic, is idiosyncratic.
Really, though, the story is about personal breakthroughs. Whether or not there is a causal relationship between these breakthroughs and participation in the focus group is beside the point. The fact is, long after the focus group session, each woman changes her life in ways they couldn't have imagined prior to the focus group.
The story zips along. The stage is bare but for the women in the four chairs (we're situated so that, POV-wise, we ask the questions as well as monitor the proceedings behind mirrored glass). This focuses us on the non-stop patter of perfect, in-sync dialogue. The cumulative effect is as if the women, different as could be imagined, formed part of a hive mind, each feeding off the other's comments and appearances, each guessing at their lives, each coming to individual, profound insights by virtue of having been brought together in that small room.
The characters are well drawn. Carol (Maikiko James) is the stay at home mom who is sequestered by motherhood. Roxanne (Tiffany Rebecca Royale) is the high-powered lawyer who is too busy to have a relationship, much less raise a family. Daniella (Marian Gonzalez) is the gender (though not preference) confused man hamstrung by the decision whether or not to go through with a sex change operation. And Evie (Lindsay Lamb) is the college student who spends too much time on bad relationships and not enough time on herself.
And the performances bring the characters to life. The actresses are funny, at times in spite of themselves; they are sincere, if not exasperated; and they deal with individual, everyday matters, the same sort of things with which we all deal, all of which gets us to identify with each and every one one of them. Their end-of-story transformations are vivid and not a little hopeful. We are glad for them and grateful for the inspiration to get our act together.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying, in one respect Freud got it wrong: sometimes a pen is not just a pen.
The final performance is at noon, Sunday June 23. Tickets are $12. The Lounge Theatre is located at 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood. For more information please visit http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1359.