The first show for Gannon University’s Mini Fringe Festival proved serious and mildly silly. Written by Mary Lee Richey, “Women Without Skin” looks at women in a range of relationships centering on a mother-daughter tie, played by Paula Barrett and Natalie Pertz.
Barrett, a communication arts instructor, begins “Women Without Skin” with a short set of announcements that includes calling it a “workshop production.” Set in the Schuster Theatre’s green room – made to look like a bathroom – the atmosphere is close and well-lit. While it was a workshop production – the actors admitted they were leaving a script on set, which was a bathtub and vanity table – the production wasn’t missing anything.
The minimalist set complements the in-your-face symbolism in Richey’s writing. The show opens with the daughter – Pertz – scrubbing at the bathtub and asking what the build-up is. She thinks it’s skin and there’s “little pieces of us lying everywhere.”
The mother’s typical reactions add some lightness to the selectively deeper writing. She rolls her eyes at her daughter’s comments and her nostalgia for being a little girl. When her mother cries in frustration, her daughter notices “You have black tears.” There’s a monologue from the daughter where she sounds nearly mad talking to herself and realizing no one understands her, and another where she examines herself in the mirror and calls herself grotesque.
The mother’s character embodies society’s standards as she and her daughter primp for what the audience eventually learns is the mother’s remarriage. She calls concealer great because it hides any flaws, but tells her daughter to keep her eyebrows looking natural because she doesn’t like the “painted-on” look. The irony of her standards is humorous, but there are slapstick elements where she plucks her daughter’s eyebrows and tries to do her hair.
There’s tension between her and her daughter over her husband, because he doesn’t question himself on anything.
This opens the gate for the daughter to remember her own failed relationship, which she is still obviously hurt over.
The women are lost in their guises of happiness, which is shown theatrically by the obvious mask makeup offers.
The show ends in a role reversal.
We see the mother’s madness and frustration as she purposely picks apart her hose and then hides in the bathtub, saying she didn’t want any more disappointments.
The daughter promises to stay as long as her mother wants, but it’s implied she would never leave if she kept her promise.
“Women Without Skin” is a great opening for Gannon’s Fringe Festival, even if it gets less attention compared to the other shows. The writing is poetic while remaining simple and Barrett and Pertz are perfectly paired. There is a visible bond between the two actresses that made their roles all the more believable, if not a little bit funny.
The Erie Fringe Festival continues this wSeek with “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” “The Music Man” and “Scooter Thomas Makes it to the Top of the World.”