Talking Heads

Triangle productions at Theater! Theatre!, 3430 SE Belmont, 239-5919, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm, through Feb. 1, $19

I n time with the feel-good hit film Calendar Girls, your yen for tea-guzzling, crumpet-sopping old English ladies is justified. Gone are the days when your longing to see underneath Dame Judie Dench's knickers had to be suppressed into the dirty recesses of your perverted, Anglophilic mind.

Director Donald I. Horn returns to Theater! Theatre! with an unearthing of Alan Bennett's critically renowned Talking Heads monologues. Bennett (The Madness of King George, A Question of Attribution) is a giant in British television and theater, who, with his fellow crossover visionaries Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard, has redefined theater through macabre subtlety. Bennett's study of middle-class women in Yorkshire maintains an air of eerie normalcy, where the secrets and dysfunctions of everyday life crawl out from under the rugs. Old traumas and lifelong resentments appear like the bloodstains on Lady Macbeth's dishpan hands.

Horn has assembled a cast of women who carry the frail, geriatric dignity of past-their-prime birds. Vana O'Brien (recently of Nickel and Dimed and Gus Van Sant's Elephant) is Rosemary, an old-moneyed matron who recalls stories of gardening and murder with equal candor. In Rosemary we see the confining weight of class attitudes and domestic obligation. Karen Tate (Appalachian Ebeneezer) plays the church vicar's wife, Susan, coping with her own spiritual boredom with a hot, taboo-breaking affair and long slugs of communion wine. Tate is brilliantly desperate in dyed red hair and smokes ladyfinger cigarettes with jaded grace. Helena deCrespo is the crowning jewel of the trio, playing the demented Doris, a far-gone septuagenarian with a foot in the grave and a mind split between delusion and memory.

Talking Heads sees all three women before the backdrop of an English county home, all floral print curtains and fragile tea china. For the Masterpiece Theatre crowd, the play throws a monkey wrench into Victorian stuffiness, underlining the sinister side of pastoral life, and exploding the male-dominant culture of domestic life. All of the snippy English slang and bad-toothed grins make the tales of murder and adultery go down as easy as jellied eels. While at times funny, Talking Heads is ultimately a set of swan songs, three women giving their own eulogies. TOUSSAINT PERRAULT