The twist on the title reflects the twist in the plot of Santa Paula Theater Center’s production of English playwright Laura Wade’s Home, I’m Darling.
And what a twist. Feminism gets turned on its ear when Judy (Kimberly Demmary), a thoroughly modern working woman, decides to chuck her 21st-century lifestyle and become a doting housewife to her mystified husband, Johnny (James James). All in the name of her 180-degree sendup of women’s lib.
No doubt, Judy is obsessed with the lifestyle. But why? The set reflects her transformation: a retro 1950s remodel of the kitchen, plus the dining and living room furniture complete with throw pillows, even the thoroughly mid-century stereo that plays (between sets) old jazz, blues, pop and rockabilly.
Her mother, Sylvia (Poosy Holmes), wonders. Her husband wonders. So do her friends Fran (Julie Fergus) and a very randy Marcus (Derek Petropolis). Even Johnny’s new boss, Alex (Paula Smiech), wonders.
Somewhere buried in Judy’s subconscious is a rebellion against her mother’s old communal lifestyle as well as a reconstructed version of her father’s love. It goes against the grain of modern life, modern reality, and even some of the grim realities of the 1950s.
Judy is oh-so-charming. You can feel her passion and her longing for something genuine and truthful in her life. At 45, she longs to go backward and drag everyone, including Johnny, with her. Maybe the audience as well, though we might draw the line at the appliances in our kitchen (the fridge is quite vintage) and our laptops, something even Judy hangs onto. Johnny tries to be supportive, but you can tell that even after three years of pampering and indulgence, his patience is wearing thin.
There’s a challenge in the plot. Given our own preferences and our current support for women’s rights, you might wonder if the author is aiming a big, fat fist square to our jaw, especially when the question is posed to dedicated homemaker Judy by her own mother: “Yes, you’re a housewife, but what do you do?”
Playwright Wade chews on that question with multiple plot twists, including a looming mortgage default crisis. Money is money, after all; someone has to earn it. Then there’s the potential loss of love from hinted-at affairs, plus workplace demotions, sexual harassment and personal duplicity.
It bursts wide open when Sylvia, fed up with her daughter’s dreamy sense of the 1950s, bursts her bubble with a ranting soliloquy. Sylvia knows the territory well; she led the charge for women’s liberation. It was time to take a sledgehammer to Judy’s assumptions.
The reality and possibilities of the modern working woman are presented with wit, drama and a bit of droll British hijinks. While you may be charmed by the lighting, sets and music, there’s something else beneath the surface — the lingering shadow of gender identity and subtle sexual longing.
Even today, men and women struggle with shifting family roles, money stress and gender stereotypes. Like Judy and Johnny, couples must find workable solutions, even unconventional ones. It all boils down to communication. In that sense, it’s no easier today than in the 1950s, and whether or not you buy the way it works for Johnny and Judy, you’ll be impressed with their efforts.
Peppy, perky, witty and heartbreaking, this is Wade’s feminine domain, mixed with Elvis dance tunes and some amusing housekeeping.
Home, I’m Darling plays through May 21 at the Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. Seventh St., Santa Paula. For more information, call 805-525-4645 or visit www.santapaulatheatercenter.org