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[whitespace] The Monogamist
The Gropes of Academia: Angela Goodsell (from left), John Kovak, Kimy Martinez, Nancy Rosenberg and Ted D'Agostino mix and match in 'The Monogamist.'

Boomers vie with Xers in 'Monogamist'

By John Angell Grant

WHEN CRITIC Jasmine Stone interviews her former professor on a cable television show, she deconstructs his new book of avant-garde poetry and turns it into something different from the author's intent. "Art," she says, "is about male insecurity in the face of female reproductive power." This telling encounter kicks off Christopher Kyle's amusing fable of modern gender politics, The Monogamist, which opened this weekend at City Lights Theater. Part of the critic's motivation in saying what she does, it turns out, is to pry her former professor from his wife so she can sleep with him. (Critics don't fare well in this play.)

The Monogamist is a difficult play to summarize fairly without spilling the beans about a rather interesting story. Each scene brings new turns and widens the characters' understanding of themselves. The poet Dennis and his wife, Susan, who is a professor of feminist literature at Princeton, are both baby boomers. Susan is the author of a new book on Emily Dickinson, whose sales take off when Camille Paglia pans it. Dennis and Susan sense, in differing ways, the emptiness in their lives. They turn, by default, to Tim and Sky, two Xers a generation younger, for guidance. Tim wants to go into advertising, saying, "That's where I can really make a difference." Sky confesses to Susan, "Tim is a little more shallow than Dennis, but I like that in a guy."

The witty observations about gender and generational politics make an entertaining evening, but underneath the comedy, The Monogamist deals with big themes, including the search for meaning in life. It's like a gender-politics Möbius strip, with each twist leaving one in an unexpected place. The boomer husband and wife have a hard time connecting with and understanding each other; the Xer man and woman don't bother trying and aren't stressed by the situation. That's not the point for either of them. The intergenerational encounters are mystifying, yet enjoyable and even illuminating.

Kyle, however, is not always able to resolve the interesting problems he sets up. So the Möbius strip ends up torn by Dennis' self-absorptions. One senses that this is an instance of the author breaking into his own play, and that, if left to their own devices, the characters might well have found a more satisfying and cathartic way to resolve the conflicts and dilemmas they have created in their lives. But like the ideas of the critic in the opening scene, this is speculation.

Strong performances come especially from Ted D'Agostino as Tim, Kimy Martinez as Sky, and Nancy Sauder as wife and feminist lit professor Susan. Director Ross Nelson has helped the actors find the connections that make the relationships among these eccentric characters work realistically. The Simon and Garfunkel songs, played in the dark between most scenes, add a poignant touch. The black flats, however, that bracket the staging, could use a fresh coat of paint.

The Monogamist plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm through Oct. 31 at City Lights Theater, 529 S. Second St., San Jose. Tickets are $12-$15. (408/295-4200)

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From the October 15-21, 1998 issue of Metro.

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