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Batter up Helfrich, left, gets a baking lesson from Eckert.

Batter up Helfrich, left, gets a baking lesson from Eckert. Photo by Rachel Roberts

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

When Sally Kempton called feminism a battle with “an enemy who has outposts in your head,” she explained why enlightened women still twitch with guilt when they can’t ice a cake. The dissonance can drive a woman insane. So while Bekah Brunstetter’s tar-hearted comedy about a lunatic homemaker plays on a familiar irony (recommended viewing: Medea and Serial Mom), her central joke isn’t quite dead yet.

Twinkling Dottie (Ginger Eckert) and live wire Betty (Melinda Helfrich) seem to be a cheerful mother-daughter pair—sure, Dottie hallucinates, but they’re happy. Dottie has raised Betty as a perfect Hoover-era wife, sheltering her from any hint of modernity. Inevitably, a creep with an Apple iBook (Justin Blanchard) stumbles into their gingham Eden. Why does he seem so familiar with Betty’s past? And why has Dottie started swearing a blue streak?

Brunstetter’s thriller unspools in a series of modest shocks, particularly once she introduces that mysterious stranger; she is tart on the topic of young men with poetry notebooks, and a flagging play—you can only slam meatloaf so often—gets its second wind. Geordie Broadwater directs with an eye to the screwball, and is at his best with the pop-eyed Helfrich and the doe-eyed Blanchard. Eckert, unfortunately, has the tackiest lines (“If you grow up without a child…one might as well be dead!”) and a gluey delivery. Still, with a handful of cuts and a tightened pace—not to mention lemon juice and seltzer—they could wipe that stickiness away.

45th Street Theater. By Bekah Brunstetter. Dir. Geordie Broadwater. With ensemble cast. 2hrs. One intermission.