My husband and I went to see The Comparables, a new play by Laura Schellhardt, at Seattle Repertory Theater. It is always exciting to attend a world premiere of a show particularly when the subject matter is relevant to contemporary issues.
The Comparables is a satire about three power-hungry women in the real estate business, which is often portrayed as ruthless and cutthroat in the cultural industry. For instance, David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross and Sam Mendes’ American Beauty portrayed many of their characters in the real estate business as either brutish or pathetically money hungry. Since I do not know much about the real estate business, I am not sure if the business is cutthroat or not, in reality. But, certainly the real estate business has frequently been represented in media as immoral, ethically compromised, or amoral at best – perhaps because the business does not necessarily require any specialized skills or class except for a willingness to go far to get the desired profits. So it is probably natural for Laura Schellhardt to have chosen the high-end real estate business milieu to show various pitfalls ambitious women can get snared in.
Feminism taught women to trust and help each other, but in the highly competitive world they may easily fall into the pattern of behaviors that undermine each other particularly when they are competing against each other for the same target. And these three women created by Laura Schellhardt treat each other in every mean manner possible: they trivialize each other; they pull rugs from under each other’s feet; they play one-upmanship constantly; and they even get into a physical fight. And, all of them end up losing what they wanted most from the current situation.
After all, it’s a satire. And satire works by showing human failings in an exaggerated manner in order to make the audience recognize the represented behaviors as shameful but somewhat familiar so that they can correct the very behavior they recognized as ugly. The play is supposed to be feminist, but I find it a little hard to characterize it as feminist. I think probably the play should be categorized as post-feminist because it didn’t treat the women characters with any politically correct gentleness.
I have to say that I found the play very funny (although at times uncomfortable), and that I enjoyed it for the sheer joy of watching an all-female cast acting energetically on the stage. I even admired their athleticism in the cat-fight scene, which some people might have found low. The play in a way reminded me of George Cukor’s hilarious film The Women, which introduced each character as an animal, such as tiger, monkey and cow, at the very beginning, thus underscoring the fact that each character represented one stereotype of womanhood and that the film was a satire.