From here, there's a series of vignettes jammed full with blogging, politics and murder; these are glued together by fourth wall-breaking, déjÃ vu, and liberal anger. There's also a barrage of preposterous postmodern analogies, such as: women are to blogs as men are to screenplays. "Jane Fonda" often pops in wearing a leotard and doing her workouts — a clear sign of her backwards evolution as a political feminist, from Hanoi Jane to Legwarmer Jane. She doubles as a screenwriting muse and an icon of duality. Don't strain to understand how she really fits in, though: even the play doesn't know.
Eventually, a terrifying war memory surfaces involving soldiers, a grenade, and a 13-year-old girl's vagina. But it's obvious that the play is aware of its preposterousness long before the brutality of the war in Iraq is weaved into the overlapping narratives. If it wasn't so smug, That Pretty, Pretty may have succeeded as a farce of what makes over-the-top exercises in pop-academia so heavy-handed and insufferable. Such self-effacing insight would make an interesting theory if its second-hand ideas were not bathed in such misanthropic self-seriousness.
Instead, Callaghan incorporates enough cross-dressing, role-reversal, homoeroticism, rants on beauty, female Jell-O wrestling, convention-loathing, and bed pissing to teach a class on gender studies or semiotics. Unfortunately, That Pretty, Pretty is more akin to an introductory 101 class than an interesting seminar, presenting a shallow survey of ideas instead of finely observing the depths of a focused subject. With clunky lines such as, "some people don't have a stomach for social commentary," the play is so loaded with criticism that it undoes itself, calling "bullshit" on its own over-the-top gestures. It's awfully difficult to comment on society when everything reflects inward. Although the circular narrative continually folds in on itself, That Pretty, Pretty signifies a dead-end in postmodern theater.
That Pretty, Pretty: Or, The Rape Play is at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (224 Waverly Place, between Perry and W 11th Streets) through March 15. Tickets are $40 and available through SmartTix (212-868-4444) or www.smarttix.com.