The Working Theatre Collective's Peaking 

(Yes, It's a Masturbation Joke)

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WHILE THE WORKING Theatre Collective (WTC) explains their company's name with an earnest mission statement ("through working to produce art we find the heart of living"), I prefer a less high-minded interpretation: The WTC is hard working, and they're working constantly. Since December of 2008, the young company has produced eight shows (!), including a site-based work of theater-by-bike-ride for last summer's Pedalpalooza.

WTC's ninth production is a world premiere of Kamarie Chapman's Peaking, about—brace yourself—three goddesses who are exiled from Olympus after learning how to masturbate. See, jealous Zeus grows threatened when the goddesses take their pleasure into their own hands (rimSHOT), and as punishment he banishes them to the desert of New Mexico for 100 years.

Let's set aside any pretense of objectivity for a moment: I hate that premise. It reminds me of consciousness-raising vulval self-exams, "Goddess Bless" bumper stickers, and a brand of earth-mother feminism I have always found alienating. But while it can never entirely escape its drippy second-wave underpinnings, playwright Chapman's got a lighter hand than the above plot synopsis might suggest. Peaking's thematic concerns hinge less on the patriarchy's historical investment in alienating women from their sources of power (I lifted that quote verbatim from a high school book report on The Awakening) than on an exploration of whether it's better to be worshipped or known. And, thank god, there are jokes, although the scenes that strain hardest for laughs rarely get them.

Under Nate Harpel's occasionally ponderous direction, the show's five actresses give solid performances. Colleen Hartnett is particularly effective as the goddess of wisdom—she alone really understands how to work in such a tiny space.

And oh, is it tiny. The WTC's theater space, hewn out of an old industrial building in Northeast, is more black rectangle than a black box; a single row of chairs places the audience at arm's length from the performers, and the stage itself can't be much more than 10 feet deep. These close quarters lend the show an intimacy that only serves to reinforce this company's scrappy underdog quality. The WTC has plenty of room to improve, but I have no doubt they're working on it, and working, and working some more.

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