Regional Reviews: Boston
Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.
Also see Nancy's review of A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder
Birch's play is partly inspired by the radical 1967 feminist work the "SCUM Manifesto," in which Valeria Solanas calls for a dismantling of societal structures as we know them and an eradication of men. "Neither [Birch] nor this production are calling for an end of men," the program notes qualify, "but rather an examination of the power structures that continue to perpetuate inequality." The play is certainly all about deconstruction, applied to gender norms, American corporate culture, social expectations, and the very words we use to describe things like how we have sex.
The play opens with a scene featuring a man (Jeff Marcus) and a woman (Becca A. Lewis) presumably coming back from a date; as the man begins telling the woman how he wants to make love to her, she keeps correcting him or insisting he use a different preposition (make love with, not to). The scene plays out well thanks to the physicality of the actors, which is more humorous than it is sexual (no nudity), and the sense of self-awareness at the inevitable clumsiness of such conversationsin the midst of kissing, the man says, "I'm pressing you to me," then halts and asks, "can I say pressing?" This is Marcus's first production with Company One; he is active in the Boston theatre scene and previous credits include From the Deep (Boston Public Works/NYC Fringe) and The Black/Jew Dialogues (Dialogues on Diversity).
Various audiovisual techniques are implemented, such as instructions on how to revolt that are projected onto the wall throughout ("do not marry," "don't reproduce," "revolutionize the language"), in keeping with the play's focus on language. Live video feed is also used in select scenes, displaying the action onstage via a handheld camera operated by the actors. The greatest success of this is during a scene featuring Lewis: first she stands silently while being berated by two other characters for exposing herself in public (the details of the event are not entirely clear), and then she finishes the scene with a powerfully delivered monologue. All the while a close-up view of Lewis's face is displayed on the wall behind her, heightening the sense of intimacy and showcasing her talent as a performer by allowing the audience to see even the smallest flickers of emotion in her features. This is Lewis's fourth production with Company One, having previously appeared in Splendor, Grimm, and Voyeurs de Venus, among credits with many other Boston-area companies. Watch for her performance. You won't be disappointed.
Revolt. does not follow a standard narrative progression; each scene features different characters (sometimes named, most of the time not) and pivots to examine various challenges facing the female figures. The structure of such an experimental piece can be risky (certainly, Birch aims to be risky), and I generally find illustrating themes through a story that plays out among characters to be more affecting. Some moments succeed more than others.
Take, for instance, the scene in which Marcus's character sits silent while his girlfriend (Christa Brown, BFA Longwood University, Into the Woods, The Music Man, The Vagina Monologues) delivers a shocked monologue in response to his marriage proposal, comparing it to a proposal to strap a bomb to one's chest and go blow up a supermarket, and her distaste for the institution as a whole (in case the bomb analogy didn't get the message across). The man eventually argues back, and Marcus makes his case earnestly and honestly; as the text turns more to dialogue, it gets more engaging, perhaps because it feels more true to life. Monologues have their place (see Lewis's scene above), but at some point we have to interact with the other human beings around us, and it's often through the back-and-forth that the most interesting stuff comes out.
This seems to be part of what Company One hopes to get at with this production. During the reception after the performance, Williams encouraged everyone to meet three new people. Attendees were invited to write their own responses to questions related to the play (e.g., "What is your feminist utopia?" and "What gender norms inspire you to revolt?") using provided sticky notes and sharpies. We were guaranteed a response if we tweeted thoughts and questions (#RevoltWithC1, @company_one). It's a lesson one hopes we can all get behind: keep talking, keep listening, and keep working at it together.
Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. by Alice Birch, directed by Summer L. Williams, runs through November 19, 2016, at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116. Tickets are $25-$38, with student tickets available for $15. Pay-what-you-want dates ($6 minimum, walk-up only): October 21, 23, and 30. Tickets are available in person at the BU Theatre Box Office (264 Huntington Avenue) and the Calderwood Pavilion Box Office at the BCA (527 Tremont Street), by phone at 617-933-8600, or through companyone.org.