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Desperate Housewives

Sealed for Freshness Spoils Right Before Your Eyes

Versatile Solutions for Modern Living: (from left) Laurel Peyrot, Kathleen Curtin, Dyana Neal, Debra Tracey, and Laurel Burggraf's Tupperware party turns into a drunken drama in Sealed for Freshness.

By Brennen Jensen | Posted 9/15/2004

Sealed for Freshness

By Doug Stone

At the Vagabond Players through Sept. 26

This play’s rather esoteric title makes sense when you realize it’s set at a Tupperware party. And the name takes on a larger meaning given that the party in question takes place in a Midwestern living room in 1968. The quintet of ladies ogling the latest in plastic food preservation products at this shindig are themselves sealed off from the societal changes of this turbulent period—women’s lib and all the rest—that transpire beyond their rural homesteads. In mind-set and worldview, these gals are largely preserved in a 1950s world. Playwright Doug Stone, then, seems to be setting up an examination of how characters on the fringes of cultural revolution confront a coming new world order. But he wants to have a lot of laughs while doing it. And the challenge, it turns out, is uniting a trenchant anthropological examination with slapstick yuck fest.

Party host Bonnie (Debra Tracey) greets her guests with a troubled mind. Her stag-film-loving husband, Richard (Steven Michael Kovalic), has just told her, in a nutshell, that he’s no longer sexually attracted to her. Her distraught state makes it all the easier for Bonnie to decide to break with tradition and serve hooch at her Tupperfest.

Once the firewater is flowing, the party’s fireworks begin, starting with Sinclair (Kathleen Curtin), an acid-tongued firebrand who’s pregnant with her fifth child. She launches into bitter attacks, including several aimed at herself, saying of her own fat and fecund body, “My ass has more dimples than a room full of smiling first graders.” Her main nemesis, though, is the childless and slender Diane (Laurel Burggraf), whose husband has, uh, “passed on” and who now is a top regional Tupperware rep—about the closest thing the town has to a career woman.

Stone’s tale then begins to revolve on the “axis of envy” that connects this pair. Peddling deviled-egg carriers is ultimately no joy for the loveless Diana, and we learn that Sinclair has plenty of reasons to hide behind a foul mouth and fistfuls of stirred martinis. Indeed, she describes her savage so-called sex life in a way that’s nothing short of harrowing. But these bits of heavy-duty drama rather clunkily butt up against misplaced attempts at humor, including an extended fart joke and some campy costume shenanigans.

More troubling is the way the other party guests remain entirely unexplored. These include Sinclair’s sister Jean (Dyana Neal), who married money and moved a station ahead of the rest, and the ditzy blonde newlywed with Patty Duke hair, Tracey Ann (Laurel Peyrot), who seems to be on hand only for comic relief and her jealousy-inducing perky breasts. It’s as if Stone is saying if you’re rich or pretty, your life is set—women’s lib or no.

It doesn’t help that the performances, save for Curtin’s monstrous Sinclair and Peyrot’s classic/stereotypical golden-trussed airhead, are rather stilted. Lines are stepped on, and what should be breezy party banter seems stiff and forced. Debra Tracey’s Bonnie is too understated for someone whose husband just told her she’s too haggard to screw, and while Jean is supposed to be a tad haughty, Neal plays her like the headmistresses of an elocution academy.

Serving as the work’s climax is a bit of ’60s sisterhood bonding: the ritual burning of the bras (even Sinclair’s, which displays all the delicacy of a horse blanket). But the gambit backfires, as it were, on the ladies and is presented dramatically like something out a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Is the message here that if these women get to close too the cauldron of cultural change they’ll get burned? Hard to say.

In the end, Sealed for Freshness is a confused but not altogether unentertaining work. The character Sinclair, minus her more graven moments, could easily slip into a prime-time sitcom. And the set—Bonnie’s middle-class home—is fully realized and nicely detailed. But Stone and most of the players here still need to freshen up their end of the bargain.

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