The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women is a satire about a women’s theatre group putting on a performance about five ladies being tried for betraying Anastasia Romanov, daughter of a Russian Czar. Carolyn Gage’s play takes a funny look at the backstage antics of a quirky repertory company while giving us a history lesson at the same time. This also marks the first full-length production done by the Women’s Theatre Project after three years of toured stage readings.
The Emma Goldman Theater Brigade is about to put on a play in which five women are being tried for betraying another woman and stealing her identity. Offstage antics run rampant as we see feminist Marie (Kathy Ryan-Fores) trying to learn lines while being annoyed by an indifferent stagehand (Rebekah McCarthy). Donna (Stacy-Ann Rose) is perturbed that the director (Miriam Kulick) always gets the good role for herself, while the playwright (Merry Jo Pitasi) is adding another character that she can play, much to the chagrin of Athena (Jacqueline Laggy), a passionate social climber. Athena coaxes sickly Jenny (Tara Vodihn) to switch roles with her, so she can get a crack at playing the defense attorney. Meanwhile, Amy (Lela Elam) has a singing gig that she doesn’t want to miss, so she swears Melissa (Carol Sussman), who yearns for critics' approval, to cover for her.
The audience is judge and jury, while the bailiff gives us a choice of different colored paper to sustain or overrule a objection. While the play itself is funny to an extent, the drama unfolds as we hear each woman’s story of why she betrayed Anastasia and to what lengths she went to do it. Tensions among the players unfold as they discover who they are and what they want from each other. Gage writes from a “choose your own adventure” perspective; if we sustain or overrule a objection, the players have separate dialogue to choose from for their different routes to play's end.
Director Genie Croft has chosen an Ocean’s 11 type of cast for this piece. Not only do they work as a well-oiled machine, but each actor holds her own in representing the characters and the troubles they go through. Croft gives the actors business when they have no dialogue, so the action never stops. When Miriam Kulick and Jacqueline Laggy square off as attorneys, they almost resemble the two titans from Inherit the Wind. Kathy Ryan-Fores’s dark portrayal of one of the defendants is chilling, while scene stealing credit goes to Rebekah McCarthy as Betty the stagehand, who plays the beleaguered bailiff. She can ham it up without being too over the top.
When Tara Vodihn breaks out of her shell as Jenny, aka Anastasia, she spits fire as her diatribe indicts everyone who doesn't care about her as an actor and/or character. Vodihn channels enough rage that each word has meaning. She then turns the tables on Laggy, so Laggy can assess her deception carefully. Laggy gives a deep, meaningful performance as the final witness, so the jury can reach a final verdict.
The verdict is in: The Anastasia Trials is guilty of being a humorous, insightful work of literature that shows women are more that mere mortals, and the Women’s Theatre Project is convicted for giving us a satisfying night of laughter, drama, and history in their inaugural production. To coincide with the run, Carolyn Gage is in town until February 11th, so you can decide whether to sentence her to a life of scrutiny or a thriving career in the theatre.
The Anastasia Trials will be in session until February 22nd in the Cafeteria Theatre at the Old Davie School Historical Museum, 6650 Griffin Road in Davie. For more information, please call (954) 797-1044.
THE WOMEN’S THEATRE PROJECT
Stage Manager: Alison Ronis
Costumes by Meredith Lasher and the Cast
Cast: Kathy Ryan-Fores, Rebekah McCarthy, Stacy-Ann Rose,
*-denotes Actor's Equity Association
-- Kevin Johnson