Off Broadway Reviews
Jen & Angie
The New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC)
The 49 Project
Part Jonathan Swift satire and part revenge fantasy, part Law & Order and part Twilight Zone, Mary Adkins's lacerating play The 49 Project, running this week at the New York International Fringe Festival, considers what could happen to American life and laws if women, not men, were the gender entrenched at the highest levels of government and jurisprudence. It perhaps shouldn't surprise anyone that things don't look that different.
The specific catalyst for the action in the play, which is set 62 years after women attained their majority, is the passage of the Freeing Families from Fear Act, which removes fathers' last shred of guaranteed legal protection. Under it, for example, a man merely accused of rape can lose all parental privileges forever - the logic being that women, as their children's biological "owners," must never feel threatened. This development has particularly rankled The 49 Project, the activist group cofounded by Charles Pollock (Brian Russell) and currently led by Nathan Harrison (Clayton Apgar) dedicated to preserving the rights of the disenfranchised 49 percent of the population bearing a Y chromosome - and which sacrifices ground every year as apathy flattens a once-useful anger into the comatose status quo.
Constantly waging a losing war has taken its toll on Charles, who departs the organization, leaving just his daughter, Christina (Dylan Moore), alone with Nathan at its upper echelons. The two, who have known each other for 16 years, since he was 16 and she was five, are desperate to make new inroads in their struggle, and aren't above any methods - even if they threaten the fabric of society itself when Christina becomes pregnant and fingers Nathan as the one who made it happen against her will.
No, this is not subtle storytelling. It is, however, deliciously subversive, at least in the earliest and latest scenes where Adkins sets up and knocks down a series of devastating dramatic dominoes that ruthlessly skewer certain special interest groups' predilections for perennial outrage. In between, Adkins and director Marshall Pailet, who's provided a stark and piercing (if desperately underlit) staging, have trouble building and maintaining momentum across the cut scenes and court scenes that push the plot drily across the eight months of ensuing litigation. The oppositional excitement of the opening scenes and the pure brutality of the shocking finale are undoubtedly difficult to sustain for 90 minutes, but less heavy-handed restating, retreading, and secret-keeping in the interposing valleys would provide some key help.
Although, in truth, Adkins doesn't need much. The 49 Project is that rare kind of scintillating political theatre that assumes infinite new facets and possibilities as you watch it: Is Adkins warning against unchecked activism or the direction in which she sees our phallocentric society heading? Is the play an unusually well-developed reproductive rights metaphor, or a celebration of the protection that already exists? Is it a liberal dream or a conservative nightmare? It's impossible to pin down the play, because Adkins is always revealing new aspects of situation or character that explode whatever allegiances you think you develop. If its presentation of a masturbatory, lapdog media culture could be tamed a bit, this play is overall loaded with smart, corrosive writing that will torment you long after it's finished.
At least as important in this production's success are the performances, with Apgar a grippingly magnetic modern-day male alterna-hippy at the forefront of his crusade, and yet also convincingly myopic when things take a turn for the unexpected; Russell is movingly conflicted as a reluctant revolutionary foot soldier, and Finnerty Steeves, Zoey Martinson, and Alexis McGuinness are highly successful as a take-no-prisoners trio of media and legal know-it-all characters. Truly virtuosic, however, is Moore, who conquers an unbelievably broad range of emotions in maneuvering Christina's unusual battle: from fiery to defeated, from ecstatic to abandoned, from lusty to lost, and, yes, from powerless girl to fully controlling woman in an unforgiving twist on what David Mamet chronicled in Oleanna.
Yet despite having to play so much, Moore never misses a step in the transition. She creates a flawless picture of a how a girl could grow up, grow conceited, and against the odds grow into herself in a world in which she received unchecked and unapologetic encouragement to be the most of everything she could be. Her world is not ours, although it's up to the observer to determine whether this is good or bad. But, as with so much else in The 49 Project, Adkins leaves open both possibilities as she reminds that women must be careful what they wish for and that men must not abuse the power they already have les they lose their - and everyone's - most cherished humanity.
The 49 Project
Jen & Angie
Big lips, big hair, and bigger attitudes characterize the need-no-introductions title duo in Laura Buccholz and Christina Casa's funny but not riotous Hollywood-star parody, Jen & Angie. The show, which has been directed with shrugging-shoulders flair by Susannah Beckett, imagines what could - and, let's face it, probably would - happen if a plane crash stranded Brad Pitt's former and current squeezes on a desert island. You know, the clashing and comparing of egos, resumes, and tabloid headlines that must seem super important to people with titles like "U.N. Goodwill Ambassador" and "former lead on Friends," but don't mean that much to anyone else.
Buchholz nicely captures Jennifer Aniston's brittle mania and barely concealed neediness, and Casa Angelina Jolie's holier-than-thou, hot haughtiness. (She even performs a rotating-wrist wave à la Queen Elizabeth II, and you don't doubt for a moment she means it.) But aside from their generally successful impressions and a few prime slashes at the celebrity jugular - "You have nothing going for you except good comic timing, and that's not the same thing as being funny," Angelina bleats at Jennifer a few minutes after she seduces and devours a marauding marmot - this is more comedy skit than play and more amusing than meaningful.
One suspects that, on some level, Buchholz and Casa intended exactly that: to prove that the women's rampant one-dimensionality should be mocked rather than admired. But if imitation really is the highest form of flattery, aren't they contributing to the superstar mythos instead of debunking it? In never dealing with that question, Buchholz and Casa ensure that Jen & Angie is a lot less trenchant - if not necessarily a lot less fun - than it could be.
Jen & Angie