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Off Broadway Reviews

The Collision / The Martyrdom

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - January 28, 2022

Emma Ramos, Layla Khoshnoudi, and Lizzie Fox
Photo by Ashley Garrett
Let us take a long, long journey to the past, all the way back to the 10th century. Our stopping point is an abbey in Gandersheim, Germany, where a secular canoness named Hrotsvitha put quill to parchment and wrote a play, a comedy titled Dulcitius, about three Christian sisters who triumph over Satan. It is this play, which has clearly withstood the test of time, that was the inspiration for a pair of modern adaptations, The Collision and The Martyrdom, opening together tonight at 59E59 Theaters.

The evening begins with Nadja Leonhard-Hooper's odd and meandering The Collision, directed by Lily Riopelle. It is a mash-up of the profound and the profane, featuring three medieval nuns (Emma Ramos, Layla Khoshnoudi, and Lizzie Fox), a wayward meteorite, a miracle or two, possible demonic possession, and lots of gutter humor. To get a sense of plot and style, imagine a play being scripted as an assignment to a couple of incorrigible parochial schoolboys who paid scant attention to the history lesson that preceded it. Think Beavis and Butt-Head, and make of it what you will.

While The Collision lacks cohesion, it is not without some truly funny moments, and the performers, in what might be seen as an act of faith, courageously throw themselves into the mayhem. In addition to the trio playing the nuns, hats off to Halima Henderson, who is delightfully on point in several supporting roles, including that of a messenger with a remarkable sense of recall, and a seemingly benign bishop.

More in keeping with the spirit of the intended adaptation is Amanda Keating's The Martyrdom, directed by Molly Clifford. In it, the same talented cast of four take us back to the future by offering up versions of Dulcitius as presented in various times through history. We see these in the form of rehearsals of the play as it might have been performed through to the present day, with shifts of socio-political tone characteristic of the representative periods. The rehearsal format allows for some helpful narrative to keep us all in the loop, yet none of this reeks of musty scholarship. The entirety of The Martyrdom is fun to watch, and, guessing from the joyfulness of the performances, a lot of fun to act.

The overall production is by Two Headed Rep, a company whose mission is to "create adaptations of classics that are politically responsible as well as fun." Certainly The Martyrdom lives up to that intent, and it could very well stand on its own to make for a very enjoyable time-traveling exploration of a thousand-year-old play. As it stands, however, the coupling of the two plays makes for a long evening, running close to three hours with an intermission. It is a lot to sit through, especially if you aren't already a member of the Hrotsvitha Fan Club.

The Collision / The Martyrdom
Through February 5, 2022
59E59 Theaters, Theater C
59 East 59th Street, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: