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Off-Off-Broadway Review

The Oath

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The Oath
Photo Source: Jess Hooks
If there's such a thing as Southern Gothic Revival in the American theatre, this world premiere of a play by Jacqueline Goldfinger might qualify. More accurately, the playwright has interpolated several contemporary concerns, chiefly of women, into a tried-and-true dramatic genre with only partial success.

Single motherhood, abortion, females in the clergy, financial independence, and sexual equality undoubtedly were major issues with some women in the South during the Great Depression, but given the general economic disaster and the inherent social conservatism of most of the region, these subjects too often seem tacked on and ill-fitting here. It doesn't help that Goldfinger has placed some decidedly modern locutions into the mouths of her 1930s period characters. No one back then said "She's not a fan" to mean "She doesn't like you." Nor did a slut with her slip always showing say "Don't chat me up"—to any guy, ever—much less misuse the phrase, a more recent British import, to mean "Don't try to pull the wool over my eyes" when it really means "Don't flirt with me."

Set in a rectory in the Florida panhandle near Pensacola (then and now often described as South Alabama), the story revolves around the three women who have long lived there and a semi-mysterious itinerant male preacher who enters the household. For the women to continue residing in the church housing rent free, they must promulgate the illusion that the nominal reverend in residence, the father of two of them, is still functional. In fact he is lying in a coma in his bedroom; pronouncements from him and questions to him are faked by his two daughters, the mercenary elder, Ophelia (Sarah Chaney), and the slatternly younger, Cebe (Louise Flory). In the wandering younger minister (Anthony Crep) they see a way both to serve the neglected church members and to perpetuate the fiction that their father is still in charge.

The actors, under the direction of Cristina Alicea, perform admirably, growing ever better as the play progresses. Diánna Martin, as the family's lame and illiterate housekeeper, is especially superb throughout. She is touching and true in her scenes, mostly at the beginning and end of the play (we could use more of her in the middle); even her accent seems the most authentic of the lot. It's not the actors' fault that their characters change attitudes too jarringly to be believable most of the time.

Presented by Maieutic Theatre Works
at the ArcLight Theatre, 152 W. 71st St., NYC.
April 25May 10. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.
(212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, or www.theatermania.com.

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