IF THE BODY sheds all its cells in a seven-year cycle, as Eleanor the AWOL mom asserts in the comedy Why We Have a Body, then why is it that our all-new bodies keep making the same old mistakes?
Eleanor's daughter, Mary, a 7-11 holdup artist who's mildly deranged by a Joan of Arc fantasy, has the answer: It's because we're all nuts.
"The definition of insanity," Mary says, "is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result."
All four characters in this entertaining ensemble piece, put on by the new theatrical troupe Luna Muse, get stuck in old grooves. Mary's sister Lili, a lesbian private detective who's the most level-headed of the bunch, despairs of ever breaking out of her pattern of pursuing lovers who are not entirely available. Her current paramour is the paleontologist Renee, whose primness keeps her with a husband she doesn't much like, but whose intellectual adventurousness sets her to wondering who else might be out there.
Eleanor is trying, definitely trying, to change her life. She's taken herself to the rainforest of Chiapas, leaving her two grown daughters to fend for themselves.
And Mary? Well, it's not easy to get around to a normal life when you're haunted by Joan burning at the stake.
Why We Have a Body is a screwball women's comedy that puts the lie to the old canard that feminists have no sense of humor. In one scene, Eleanor delivers an amusing lecture on the lesbian brain, using a chart and a pointer to locate points of memory and points of self-doubt. She recounts how she blamed herself when she learned daughter Lili was a lesbian. "But then Lili said, 'Why should you get all the credit?'"
The humor can have an edge. Eleanor remembers her own mother, boxed into a traditional role, saying over and over, "Where did I put my pocketbook?" Her daughter remembers the conundrum sadly. "It's as if she were saying, 'Where did I put my mind?'"
The episodic story is slight, and unfolds mostly in a series of solo cameos by the four performers, with many of their lines delivered directly to the audience. Will Renee return to the woman she loves? Will Lili's sleuthing skills ever illuminate her own life? Will Mary abandon her bonfire fantasies? Can Eleanor embrace domesticity again after tasting the delights of the jungle? The answers are never in much doubt, but playwright Claire Chafeee is less interested in suspense than she is in spotlighting some truths about women's lives.
Veteran Invisible Theatre director Gail Fitzhugh keeps the hijinks moving briskly along; Wayne Pearce's slide images projected onto an onstage screen help give a sense of place to the spare set.
Luna Muse has been fortunate in attracting four of Tucson's best actresses to its premiere production. Carlisle Ellis, an alum of just about every small troupe in town, gives Lili grace and gravitas. Carrie Hill, who's acted with Bloodhut and others and even written a one-woman show of her own, is ideal as the kooky Mary. Rhonda Hallquist, stalwart of Bloodhut and One in Ten, is pitch-perfect as the indecisive Renee. And Invisible Theatre regular Jetti Ames nearly steals the show as the senior out to save her own life.
Luna Muse Productions presents Claire Chafee's comedy Why We Have a Body at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, November 17 and 18, and at 7 p.m. Sunday, November 19 at Zuzi's Little Theatre in the Historic Y, 738 N. Fifth Ave. Tickets are $12 general, $10 for students and seniors; they're available at Antigone Books, Bentley's House of Coffee and Tea, and at the door. For more information call 622-4845.