A Tupperware party in 1968 might not seem a likely setting for a comedy with serious aspirations to shed light on the evolution of women's equality at a pivotal era of history, but that is the aim of Sealed for Freshness by Doug Stone, the latest production by Actors Guild of Lexington.
Impressively smart direction by Jenny Christian and nuanced character development by the cast keep this production from being a one-note sitcom making its hay on crass comedy and stereotypes. This production of the show succeeds by spotlighting the heart of the material — women's different struggles to lead fulfilled lives — and allowing the toilet humor to serve as a release or escalation in group tension, rather than becoming the thrust of the show.
Stone's script centers on five neighbors in a Midwest suburb whose Tupperware party devolves into an evening of bickering, secret-revealing, and bonding as the societal pressures of the era affect each woman in different ways.
On one hand, Tupperware parties seem like the pinnacle of female domestication. (Now you can make your man's sandwiches days in advance and color-code them for convenience! And you certainly don't want to be the only lady on the block who doesn't have a deviled egg carrier!) But on the other hand, selling Tupperware was a socially acceptable gateway to a career, and making your own money feels so good that in Sealed for Freshness the top regional Tupperware seller, Diane Whettlaufer (Allie Darden), traded it for her marriage.
The irony that women were dreaming of increased efficiency and shortcuts in their domestic roles while at the same time re-evaluating (and rejecting or revising) those roles in general is not lost on Christian or her cast. When Tupperware party host Bonnie Kapica (Esther Harvey), a kind of "everywoman" housewife, rushes around defending her pre-packaged, instant food and drink, she seems bewildered by and proud of her newfangled menu.
Can we really live in a world where chocolate pudding has no skin and only takes an moment to make? Can we actually have sex and a career and a husband and kids — or none of them if we don't want them?
Bonnie's living room is where the have-it-all myth is born.
It is clear that attention to character development was a high priority for Christian's cast. Nuanced acting by Darden, Harvey, Kathryn Newquist, Annie Barbera and Abby Reeve create fascinating layers of shifting conflicts and allegiances that underscore the deep dissatisfactions with which each woman is uniquely struggling. While their struggles are all different — one is an embarrassed divorcée who couldn't have children, one a perpetual breeder with no sense of self, and one a young, hot wife just waiting for life to pummel her in some unknown but inevitable way — they are united in the societal pressures that create those struggles.
Reeve deserves particular praise for an outstanding performance as Sinclair, the angry, overweight, perpetually pregnant housewife whose witty, scathing barbs and her tawdry toilet humor routinely offend everyone. In Reeve's hands, Stone's coarse language is a weapon of rebellion, a creative expression of her bottled rage that is a powerful contrast to the play's second-act revelation of her own vulnerability.