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by James Yeara on July 19, 2012

By Mark Roberts, directed by Stephen Rothman Shakespeare & Company, Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, through Sept. 2.
Parasite Drag

Photo by Kevin Sprague

Parasite Drag begins with Joellen (Elizabeth Aspenlieder) looking out of the upstage center door, a gold cross prominently place centered over the jamb. There’s a tornado watch in effect, Joellen announces to her husband Gene (Josh Aaron McCabe), who sits with his head down on the breakfast table in their comfortable suburban Illinois home. Joellen has bloodied Gene’s nose and blackened his left eye. They’ve had an argument over whether smoking a joint with his 48-year-old, hospital bed-ridden sister dying of AIDS qualifies as an act of “Christian charity” or “breaking the law.” There’s a cross just above the entrance to a stairway upstage center, and a painting of Jesus nearby; Gene is getting ordained Sunday morning and is worried about his black eye. “[I’m] just a big joke to you, aren’t I,” he says to Joellen.

Scene two kicks into gear with an entrance: A long-limbed brunette in tiny jeans shorts and cleavage-bearing top barges in to Gene and Joellen’s suburban home. She’s Susie (Kate Abbruzzese), the wife of Gene’s estranged ne’er-do-well older brother, Ronnie (Jason Asprey). “Ronnie said you was crazy religious,” Susie drawls in Kentucky bourbon vowels to Gene. “Eight-hour car ride with fucking hemorrhoids,” Ronnie yells to him in a London, Kentucky (it’s a real city; I checked), half-English/half-Southern accent. Ronnie is a janitor there, but he’s come back to his boyhood Illinois home to see his dying sister. “Baby, you need to watch what you say,” Susie drawls. “She only takes it up the ass, though; won’t even take it the regular way,” Ronnie says gleefully about his young wife when the brothers are alone.

The scene that closes act one finds Joellen smoking a bowl, reminiscing with Ronnie. “You can fuck me any way you want, Ronnie, you can fuck me in my mouth,” she says, kneeling. “Here’s the deal,” Ronnie replies after considering, “I’ll eat you out, but don’t ask for any more.” Joellen, after considering this generous offer, spreads herself on the table recently cleared of the remnants of a Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner. “Jesus, there’s no point in trying to be a good person any more,” Ronnie says (mostly to the audience), then kneels between Joellen’s thighs.

The “razor-sharp verbal sparring” (as the PR blurb states of the play’s “worthy of a Pulitzer” pretensions) and revelations that follow in act two won’t surprise anyone paying attention. In spite of the built-to-shock television-style writing (the playwright is a former producer of Two and a Half Men), Kate Abbruzzese does create a real character. And Josh McCabe brings a surprising sliver of sympathy to Gene, who is continually mocked, derided, and treated as a stereotypical Christian fundamentalist right down to the hypocrisy of his sins, which include racism and latent homosexuality.

FYI: “Parasite drag” is an aviation term for any part of a plane that doesn’t contribute to the lift. The play is aptly titled.