Talk about coitus interruptus. In Anna Fishbeyn’s new comedy, “Sex in Mommyville,” a couple struggles to find time in the bedroom while faced with unrelenting demands from whiny children and nosy parents. The show, which is a lusty, unbridled Russian Jewish updating of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” will be performed this weekend at the Manhattan Repertory Theatre in Midtown.
Fishbeyn fled with her family from Russia when she was 9. A child actor in Russia, where she had performed as a soloist with a prominent choir, Fishbeyn arrived in Chicago still dreaming of being on the stage. But since her parents lacked money for piano or voice lessons, she put those dreams on hold, attending a series of Jewish day schools and ultimately going on to the University of Chicago, where she majored in psychology.
Only after completing a doctorate in the philosophy of education at Columbia Teachers College in New York, did Fishbeyn finally end up back on stage, performing a one-woman show in 2009 at the Cornelia Street Cafe called “Conversations with My Breasts,” that shared the travails of breastfeeding her daughter. “Sex in Mommyville” is Fishbein’s second play; it started as a solo show last year and has now been expanded into a multi-character play.
Fishbeyn directs and stars as the exhausted and highly intellectual main character, Artemis, who is hamstrung by trying to satisfy the extravagant erotic fantasies of her husband, Zeus (Peter Quinones) while writing a feminist book, a manifesto called “Sex in Mommyville” that assails society’s double standards about women’s sexuality.
Meanwhile, her overbearing parents, Athena and Poseidon (Felicia Masias and Jim Coakley) who live in the apartment above them, constantly intrude, preventing the couple from working out their problems. The characters all have the names of Greek deities, which is meant both to universalize them and to suggest that mothers must be goddesses in order to, as Artemis says in the play, “separate the spirit” from the outer trappings of sexy clothing and makeup.
In an interview, Fishbeyn told The Jewish Week that the play is based on her observations of many Russian Jewish women in America who chafe against the restrictions of Russian patriarchal culture, in which men are the breadwinners and women are expected to shoulder all the domestic responsibilities.
She calls these women “misunderstood moms” — women who “write at night, or paint on the side, or dream of being actors.” Such women “toil away in secret and silence, being neither entirely stay-at-home mothers nor working out in the world” while their husbands often “don’t know or care about their wives’ ambitions. There’s a sense of entrapment that so many of these wives feel, even while their husbands see themselves as good providers.”
The couple’s abortive attempts to have sex, Fishbeyn noted, reflect their difficulties at connecting on a deeper level, as the wife’s feminist ideals clash with her husband’s macho attitudes.
“It’s not just literal sex,” she said. “It’s an exploration of who they are, how they relate to and conceive of each other. Artemis is trying to find a place where she feels powerful, and she finds it through her writing.” She begins by conforming to her husband’s fantasies but ultimately rises up to define her sexuality on her own terms.” The play thus becomes what the playwright calls a “battle — in a literal, metaphorical and emotional — sense, for who’s on top.”
“Sex in Mommyville” will be performed Friday, Sept. 9 and Saturday, Sept. 10 at 9 p.m. at the Manhattan Repertory Theatre, 303 W. 42nd St. For tickets, $20, call the box office at (646) 329-6588. There will also be performances in September and October at the Museum of Motherhood, 401 E. 84th St. For tickets and information, call the museum at (877) 711-MOMS or visit www.MOMmuseum.org.