Characters carry ‘Planet Janet’

By John Angell Grant Daily Plant Correspondent
Thursday May 24, 2001

A young woman in her mid-20s looking for sex and love in all the wrong places is the central character in Seattle playwright Bret Fetzer’s 1997 play “Planet Janet,” which Berkeley’s Impact Theater is currently running in an engaging production Fridays and Saturdays at LaVal’s Subterranean on the Northside. 

Janet (Eleanor Mason) wakes up in bed one morning next to a man she doesn’t know, and can’t remember what happened the night before. She is relieved – sort of – to find that she is wearing her diaphragm.For her friends, this is just Janet being Janet. 

She calls her guy pal Stan to hurry over and rescue her, but by the time Stan arrives Janet has changed her mind, and is making out once again with the guy from last night. 

“Planet Janet” is the story of a woman who is trying, without much success, to understand the connection between love and sex in her life – and why her easy sexual encounters always evolve into relationships from hell. 

The play is a little bit like a dormitory bull session on sex and romance, told in a series of short dramatic scenes that alternate with short monologues in which the show’s seven characters talk directly to the audience. It’s a good premise for a play. Lots of people can relate to dilemmas around sex and romance. 

The script’s main weakness is the blank spot in the character of Janet. Although some of the play’s lesser characters are fleshed out more successfully, there is something missing in the desires of Janet. 

Her actions don’t come out of a distinct center or history that tell us who she is as a person. At times, she seems more like a collection of experiences than a character. 

The same vagueness exists in the character of guy pal Stan. Stan is always there for Janet, but he won’t sleep with her. 

What makes the gaps in these two characters so noticeable is the rich, distinctive character of Janet’s artist friend Del, a struggling, divorced, cynical, wisecracking, ex-smoker portrayed by Alyssa Bostwick in the evening’s strongest performance. 

Del protects herself from life with a withering onslaught of ridicule, and Bostwick’s performance is terrific. She really listens to the other actors, and reacts in connected and considered ways. 

Impact’s production employs a youthful crew of actors generally at the start of their careers. Mason, for example, often seems to play against Janet’s subtext, which is unsettling at first, although she manages to make the part her own. 

Michael Brusasco, as stranger-in-bed Roger, also does good work, angered by how quickly Janet turns on him. 

Director Sarah O’Connell’s black box, bare staging is a more traditional production than many of Impact’s recent shows, and a more serious play – although, written by a man, it feels at times like there are moments of judgmentalness about female sexuality – what is referred to once as Janet’s “mating urge.” 

Lurking also in the background of this story is a theme of addiction – addiction to sex, to alcohol, to cigarettes and to compulsive thoughts of violence. 

But if you are in your mid-20s and happen to be interested in any of those topics – sex, alcohol, cigarettes, compulsive thoughts of violence – you will likely enjoy this play. 

Planet theater reviewer John Angell Grant has written for “American Theatre,” “Backstage West,” “Callboard,” and many other publications. E-mail him at jagplays@yahoo.com.