I found this play very difficult to read. It is very short but still, very little of it is compelling. The play is meant to be very experimental. Perhaps in its day, it was, but, reading it today, one feels the playwright never met a cliché he didn't like. And yet, I wanted to give him a pass, because I feel that he was probably creating the clichés, rather than using them as crutches. I mean the play was written in 1964. The embarrassing, pretentious, and often silly antics by today's standards were considered dangerous, boundary-pushing innovations then. They were new and exciting, not trite and old hat. I tried to take that into account as I read the play.
There are two actors both playing different manifestations of one character: an actress in an insane asylum. They are referred to in the script as The Nun and The Whore. They are never spoken to by these names but we know The Nun is a nun because she is dressed as one. The actress represented by these two actors is about to kill herself. The Nun and The Whore relive the events of the actress' life as they flash before her in her final moments.
The script is non-linear and self referential. A narrative emerges that the actress was abandoned by her father, lost her mother to suicide, was raised for a time in an abusive convent, was married and abandoned by her husband, became a sexual object for a multitude of men, parlayed her sexual prowess into a film career, became too old to continue, and was committed to this asylum where she finds death the only way to ease her suffering. That sounds so much more coherent and interesting than it does in the text. The set is simple, a bed, some chairs, and a human-sized neon cross.
The two actors trade persona's each playing the actress and the world interacting with her. There are a lot of lines that would be difficult to pull off, like, “I am woman/ all women to all men/ my succulent breasts hanging free/ suspended/ waiting eternally for milk-hungry mankind.” and “Rock? R as in rip? O as is out? C as in clit? K as in knooky-knooky?”. To make matters worse there are appalling stage directions like “[going into heat]”, “[rising like a horny volcano]”, and “[she progresses to cross the the stage like a dancing cannibal...]” among others.
I made a lot of excuses for this play. Ultimately, I think it has some power and resonance in its story but its stage conventions are not so stage worthy any longer. I think there could be a way to make the text work but one would have to scrap a lot of the staging. The corny language and dialogue requires that you find two incredibly skilled actresses each possessing tremendous amounts if charisma. The high level of intensity that is demanded by the script make it a difficult read, It is a loud, emotional piece, meant to be played with irrational, forceful energy. If you could find the right energy in performance you could pull this off on stage.
The trouble is whether its even worth it, The message is confusing. While seeming to write sympathetically about a female experience of the world, the male writer does not draw conclusions that make sense in 2016. Society's expectations of women have changed, as have their expectations of themselves. If one were to be doing just a character piece about one actress, then the archetypal elements of the script interfere. I found this one to be something of a cypher.