What do men really think of women? In Wallace Shawn’s new play, the suggested answer is that they are creatures possessed of insatiable desire, incomprehensible emotions and unfathomable deviousness. And men are just as bad: obsessed with their penises, chronically unfaithful and always longing for a maternal embrace.
Inspired by a 17th-century fairy tale, Madame d’Aulnoy’s The White Cat, Grasses of a Thousand Colours is a memoir narrated by Ben, a medical man, who tells the story of his relationships with three women: his wife Cerise, his mistress Robin and his lover Rose. As the tale unfolds, it is soon clear that we are moving in a surreal dreamscape where nature revolts against reason, humans mutate into animals and unusual plagues stalk the land.
The evening’s chief joy is Shawn himself, who performs the part of Ben with an seductive mixture of horny relish and arch amusement, his stage presence - dressed throughout in a jet-black dressing gown - illuminating the show with the cool light of an immensely attractive self-irony. As his hilariously dirty stories and wild imaginings whisk you into an absurdist world, the one comfort is that his slippered feet remain firmly on the familiar ground of emotional truth and psychological realism. The play, after all, is a wry account of the sex war.
Compellingly directed by Andre Gregory, Shawn is supported by a dreamy Miranda Richardson as Cerise, a feisty Jennifer Tilly as Robin and a childlike Emily McDonnell as Rose. Beautifully designed by Eugene Lee, with video projections by Bill Morrison, the entire play takes place on or around a white sofa, where at first the animal spirits rage and then, gradually, there arrives a final reconciliation with the absurdity of life, love and loss.