When Faeries Thirst

Women's Ensemble Theatre Company, Olde City Stageworks, 115 Arch St., through May 19 (291-0887).

Denise Boucher's When Faeries Thirst. receiving its local premiere under the direction of Robin Reese Carson, is tailor-made for the resources, politics, and aesthetic sensibilities of a certain kind of women's theater company. It calls for only three actors. Its sexual politics are unimpeachable. And it makes its point by unadulterated polemic: the three actors sing, chant, and shout the politics directly to, and at, the audience.

The three characters are Mary (Kate Rindfleisch), Magdalen (Rachel Goldberg), and the Statue of the Virgin Mary (J.J. Johnson) - Wife, Whore, and Saint, in capital letters. Mary is hooked on Prozac, Magdalen on booze. They all resent the roles imposed on them - no one more than the Statue, who chafes at being a false role model, crying out for someone to "free me from virginity.'' They all talk about their periods, their body images, sex, babies, and their mothers. Mary strips down to her undies and puts on the same skirt and apron again and again; Magdalen strips down to her merry widow and garter belt and puts on an endless series of slips and teddies. The Statue steps on and off her pedestal. Mary is beaten by her husband (Magdalen and the Statue filling in as the voice of her husband) and finally leaves him. Magdalen is raped (Mary and the Statue acting out her rapists) and is then vilified by the patriarchal legal system. They are all (they tell us, while doing the old Marcel Marceau prisoner-in-an-invisible-box mime) "the prisoners of politics.'' Finally, they scream out their rage (screaming out "WE SCREAM OUT OUR RAGE"), dress one another in clothes of their own choosing, and announce that "the time for being victim is over ... there are no victims here.''

There are a few sweet, if not any more subtle, moments, including Mary's long apostrophe to her mother (the Statue hovering behind her). And the singing (to melodies of the actors' own composition) is sometimes evocative, accompanied by percussionist Val Opielski on various bells and pots and saucepans. (She and the percussionist for the Arden Theatre's current Henry V should get together: they can make some nifty noise together).

For inexplicable reasons, the play was nearly banned and prosecuted when it premiered, in the original French, in Montreal a few decades ago. I suspect that this was more due to its religious allusions (Magdalen washes Mary's feet, Christ like, in a basin; the rapists mime nailing Magdalen, spread-eagled, through her palms) than for its sexual politics, which are too obvious, too outspoken, too direct, and too platitudinous to have any impact at all.