Mutual assured destruction was the common ground of Cold War politics at its most ludicrous—the idea that if the other "side" chose the nuclear option, in the argot of the 1960s, we'd retaliate instantaneously, and boom, all would fall down dead. Better dead than Red, as the saying went in the U.S. Undoubtedly there was a similar saying in the U.S.S.R. The Space Race between the two superpowers ran simultaneously and in support of the Arms Race.
Such ridiculous reality gave impetus to some scathing art, such as the absurdist play by Arthur Kopit currently at Common Ground Theatre as part of its Small Series. Chamber Music, smoothly directed by Rachel Klem with her customary acuteness and flair for drollery, takes place in a madhouse. All but the falsely kind doctor (Shelby Hahn) are women—famous women from several centuries. Their range and diversity are not wide—after all, in 1962, Betty Friedan had only just published The Feminine Mystique, and Ms. Magazine was still 10 years in the future. But no matter. Chamber Music's not about them: They are present as symbols and similes.
The Woman Who Plays Records (Constanze Weber Mozart, delicately played by Mary Guthrie) sweetly spins vinyl while Rome burns. The Woman in Armor (Joan of Arc, portrayed by the formidable Drina Dunlap) endangers all with her heavy cross. The Woman in Queenly Spanish Garb (the majestic Barbette Hunter as Isabella of Castile), breaks her long silence with a tirade about men and new worlds. The Woman in Aviatrix's Outfit (Amelia Earhart, boldly rendered by Dale Wolf) keeps trying to take off for freedom, while The Woman with Notebook (Gertrude Stein, manifested by Dierdre Shipman) tries to corral actuality by inscribing all its possible permutations.
Also present are explorer and documentarian Osa Johnson (Allison McAlister, ready to shoot) and silent film star Pearl White (the lovely Sheryl Scott). Leading the "committee" is Susannah Hough as the redoubtable Susan B. Anthony.
The plot, such as it is, entails planning a pre-emptive strike on the men's ward, as the women are certain the men are out to do them in. The irrational lengths to which they are willing to go in their plan are precisely the same as those of governments and armies. This seasoned sisterhood of ensemble players shows just how deadly silly it all is.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Women's rites"