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Bad Women

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Whether going by the standards of our time or the time in which they were written, the actions taken by some of the characters in traditional Greek tragedy are outlandish and deplorable, far from the type we would want children to emulate. Bad Women brings six women from the Greek tragedies together with five young women of today to see what happens. What happens is that an interesting concept for a play never takes off.

The five younger women (Alana Harris, Erica Kelley, Anya Maddow-Zimet, Ruthie Marantz, and Tamara Rosenblum), all apparently teenagers studying for their Greek tragedy exam, conjure up the women then allow them to play out on the battlefield of the HERE Arts Center. Each of the tragic figures, though, is viewed through a modern sensibility, echoing the original character but using plenty of new dialogue, and a few new ideas along the way.

Director Tina Shepard has staged her own script environmentally, moving the eleven actors in and among the audience, allowing action to happen anywhere and everywhere in the playing space. She seldom uses this to any particular advantage, though. It seems to emanate from a desire to make Bad Women wider without making it deeper.

And Bad Women, though it tries very hard to convince you otherwise, is never very deep. As is perhaps to be expected when forcing the play's characters and audience to confront so many traditional ideals and representations with a modern eye, Bad Women tries too much and it tries too hard. It's bad enough that the script gives only the most cursory examinations of these womens' characters, but adding a stage manager announcing the show's beats ("Beat #3: Jealousy," "Mother-Daughter #1: A Love Scene," etc.) over the sound system detracts from the point, it doesn't help make it.

Similar points could be made about the casting. Two of the "bad women," for example, are played by men. Will Badgett and Jack Wetherall play Clytemnestra and Phaedra, at some indeterminate point between honest presentation and camp. Medea (Connie Winston), Agave (Sonja Rzepski), and Deianeira (Rosemary Quinn), giving portrayals rooted in a slightly greater degree of reality.

Depending on your point of view, Winston either gives the worst performance or the best - it's the most likely to play in a 50,000 seat outdoor ancient Greek theatre, but seems bloated and overblown in the enclosed space at HERE. The sixth of the women, Cassandra, is given the most striking performance by Purva Bedi. Reveling in subtlety and introspection, but having far and away the least to do, Bedi coems across as not only down-to-earth, but likable. You feel for her, but not for any of the others.

Shepard failed in that area, due at least partially to the five younger women, who are game, but never really seem to understand what's going on or why. They barely represent the modern age effectively, and they can never speak for it. Near the end of Bad Women, when each of the younger women "adopts" an older woman the effect is neutralized. We don't know who any of these people are, so why should we care about them?

But perhaps that's just as well, as Shepard and her performances make the plight of the tragic figures equally impenetrable. Bad Women, then, proves ultimately unnecessary, as the characters in the original plays speak for themselves and speak to modern audiences just fine.

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Bad Women
Through June 30
HERE Performing Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue at Spring Street
Schedule and Tickets: (212) 647-0202