Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
At the end of her introductory notes to Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again, Alice Birch writes: "Most importantly, this play should not be well behaved." It isn't, though performed an underlying discipline that is a tribute to its actors and director. Birch cites a number of radical feminist sources as her inspiration, in particular The SCUM Manifesto, a 1967 screed by Valerie Solanas (best known for firing shots at Andy Warhol) that called on women to destroy the male system of dependency on money, and assert the innate strength of the female character. Of course, I greatly oversimplify, but then, so did Solanas. Birch's play is a series of conversations and contexts that illustrate how this might look in practice.
Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again is only about 70 minutes long, at least in Knox's rapidly paced production that feels like it is driven by a metronome, yet is devised by Birch to be broken into four acts. Act one is a series of short scenes that each play out one slice of the revolution she wants to illustrate, each preceded by a projected title: "Revolutionize the Language (Invert It)", followed by "Revolutionize the World (Do Not Marry)", then "Revolutionize the Work (Engage with It)" and fourth, "Revolutionize the Body (Make It Sexually Available Constantly)." It should be noted in each of these scenes, Birch's script provides lines, but does not indicate the number of characters, gender, or when one speaker stops and another speaker begins, leaving many possibilities for the way these mini-revolutions may be played. The choices that Knox made, as director, brings order and sense to each scene, while at the same time subverting the norms of status quo society. The last of these tears open the boundaries around female sexuality, empowering women to embrace, rather than defend, their sexual appetites, with frank exposition and physicality.
Act two is an extended scene, and here Birch prescribes that there be three woman, whom she names Grandma, Dinah and Agnes, who are given specific lines. It begins under the title "Revolutionize the World (Don't Reproduce)." A distraught Dinah has brought her catatonic daughter Agnes to visit her Grandma, while Grandma denies knowing either of them, or ever having a daughter, let alone a granddaughter. When Dinah appeals to Grandma by saying "She is your flesh and blood. Your granddaughter. Agnes.," Grandma replies "My flesh and blood are all contained within my body." As the scene continues, additional titles are projected above the actors, changing at an accelerating rate until they barely register.
Act three takes place under the title "Galvanise" and is a madhouse of short snippets of conversation and action with the play's six actors changing character from one moment to the next. Characters enter and exit, engaging in playfulness, sullenness, generosity and greed, depicting absurd actions one moment, dramatic realism the next. It is rather like the old "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" TV show, as if scripted by Ionesco. It is impossible to see and hear everything going on, but the whole thing makes an impression of banality spiraling out of control. Act four is a brief scene that may be seen as an attempt to draw coherence from everything that precedes it. Birch specifies that this scene be played by four women, who are gathered to reflect on where they have been, on the victories and defeats of the revolutions they have endured, and, with determination, to move forward.
The six actors form a brave ensemble, drawing out the many humorous notes in the script, raising emotional heat when anger, frustration and desire are unleashed, engaging in the show's physicality with uninhibited bravado, and moving through this pinball whipping script with amazingly adroit timing. All deserve credit: Charla Marie Bailey, Joy Dolo, Jane Froiland, Emily Grodzik, Grant Henderson and Gabriel Murphy. Special notice must go to Charla Marie Bailey, Jane Froiland and Emily Grodzik as Grandma, Dinah and Agnes, respectively, in act two, and to Joy Dolo in a spectator turn as a woman found exposing herself having erotic encounters with produce in a grocery store aisle.
Frank Theatre is presenting Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. in the playhouse recently opened by Gremlin Theatre, played on a bare thrust stage with props and costume changes visible just behind the back wall. Accoutrements of traditional women's roleshigh heeled shoes and boots, tea cups, pots and pans, silverware, and other kitchen wareshanging from the ceiling, the witty work of properties designer Kellie Larson. Kathy Kohl's costumes, Dan Dukich's sound design, and Mike Wangen's lighting design all contribute to the feeling of the play teetering on the edge of madness.
Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again is not a play for which the question "what is it about?" can be easily answered. What it is about depends on what you bring in to it, and what you are open to taking away. While it does not have a story in any traditional sense, there is a narrative, a sense of loosening and loosening and loosening the dominant male-ness of society, the ensuing chaos, and the charge to bring forth new order, wiser order, womanly order. One may embrace or rabidly oppose this view, but it is there to be considered, discussed and, hopefully, contribute in positive ways to new thoughts and feelings for its audience.
Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again, a Frank Theatre production, continues through October 22, 2017 at Gremlin Theatre, 550 Vandalia Street, Saint Paul, Minnesota. General admission: $25.00; seniors (age 62+) and students with ID: $22.00. For tickets go to franktheatre.org or call 612-724-3760.
Writer: Alice Birch; Director: Wendy Knox; Costume Design: Kathy Kohl; Light Design: Mike Wangen; Sound Design: Dan Dukich; Prop Design: Kellie Larson; and Stage Managers: Rachael Rhoades and Glenn Klapperich
Cast: Charla Marie Bailey, Joy Dolo, Jane Froiland, Emily Grodzik, Grant Henderson and Gabriel Murphy