There wasn’t a face untouched by a goofy smile at the conclusion of “Aspiration: Housewife”, a charming new work from the Odonata Dance Project that recently premiered at the New York International Fringe Festival. Part play, part dance recital and part performance piece, “Aspiration: Housewife” is a satirical look into the lives of young women either settled in the role of stereotypical 1950s suburban housewifery, or on the fast track to join the ranks.
Writer and co-director Carolyn Siegel stars as Betty Formica (those not at least marginally amused by the name may wish to seek other options), desperately trying to be a good homemaker to a straying square. The parallel story features the young and confused Girleen, who opens up the show with a telling metaphor, as she admires her wedding ring before sticking the hand that bears it into an old-fashioned washing pan-and then just stares. Not much effort is made to connect these two stories directly, but then “Aspiration: Housewife” is openly a satire, far more concerned with the general concept of its housewives than in the wives themselves; the characters are more than content to be drolly archetypal. Indeed, they’re falling all over themselves to turn into pearl-wearing roast-cooking generic homemakers.
But don’t assume the show even sticks to one plot or another; indeed, some of the best moments of “Aspiration: Housewife” are when it veers away to material related only thematically. The funniest of these moments are its vicious parodies of household product advertising. But the best is a delirious dance of despair featuring the bored women sleepwalking-no, “Sleep Walk”ing, with Santo & Johnny’s notable tune on hand-through their dreary day of chores culminating in frantic mass cleaning.
This dance is fun to watch but also says something about its characters, and indeed the finest musical moments come when “Aspiration: Housewife” achieves both; a scenelet where Betty is dressed, made-up and posed to look perfect comes to mind. The choreography by co-director Jessica Bonenfant is energetic, with one nice touch being the dancers’ frequent effervescent twirls, their dresses flaring up and out to create a variety of forms from bells to near-parachutelike tents, a distinctive swirl of shape and color for each young woman.
Problems occur when the dance and the satire don’t quite meet, with choreography and music coming in apropos of, if not nothing, less than is required, with little more than fading lights for a segue. Cheerful anarchy is fun, but a satire of women leading rigidly structured lives demands stronger underpinnings of structure. Less pressingly, but perhaps easier to address, the music has an irritating habit of cutting off before it’s quite done fading out.
But never mind. There is truth both in the dialogue and the dance in “Aspiration: Housewife”; consider the moments where the men in the show reveal their own fears about what it says about their breadwinning function if their wives are not content to merely bake that bread. Or in an advertising agency scene where an ad-man and an ad-woman, cooped up at work, recite copy-the only language they know-as sweet nothings of seduction in a funny swipe at consumerist culture.
Carolyn Siegel leads the cast with effortless empathy, her luminous smile betrayed by sad, expressive eyes as Betty Formica struggles to escape her situation, or at least serve a decent dinner. Other standouts in the cast include an uninhibited Errin Delperdang as a just-slightly-off-kilter aspiring housewife (so to speak) and a winning Vanessa Hardy as Betty’s all-too-perfect competition in the kitchen, the office and possibly the bedroom-when she’s not delivering transcendently silly pitches for unusual meat tenderizer.
Jessica Bonenfant and the Odonata Dance Project have a vision and the drive to pull it off. All this and girls in underwear too. “Aspiration: Housewife” already has further showings lined up after the Fringe Festival is over; whatever the venue, it is not to be missed.