Jane is a director and dramaturg.

Mary is an actress and educator. Both are white femmes and intersectional feminists.

Jane

Well, let’s empty our pockets. Mine are full for this one, although I don’t have a connection to this company or know most of the performers or writers, I am always wary of ten minute play festivals.

Mary

Yeah, we talked about that a little, and I said that I think that’s an unfair bias.  So I guess wanting them to succeed is in my pockets. When I was new to Philadelphia, festivals like these were what introduced me to the theater scene quickly. It’s how I got to know people. It’s also a chance for people who want to experiment with stepping outside their role to do that.

Jane

Are you talking about Girl on Girl?* Was that experience really worth it?

Mary

Point taken. But I still think these festivals are an important part of the landscape here.

Jane

Even if I let you convince me of that, this is a 10 minute play festival in reaction to what ReVamp’s website calls “ten-minute pieces written by local playwrights focusing on gender roles, gender stereotypes, women’s rights and other social issues related to the current political climate in Western society.” So this is an opportunity for us to use the in-the-moment, visceral medium of theater to react to the terrifying fallout from the Trump election in a city where people are feeling directly threatened, scared and depressed. Those feelings are really raw and so the curators of the festival have a responsibility to be mindful of the context around them.

Mary

I was also nervous to see anything branded as a response to the election. But having just seen Hello! Sadness! I was aware of how healing and important theater can be right now.

Jane

Do you want to start with design? Such as it was?

Mary

I don’t think it’s fair to talk about design for this festival because no designers were really credited. It was a kind of fly-by-night thing with actors shopping their closets and a lights-up-lights-down kind of a look.

Jane

Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what this was meant to be.

Mary

Right. But I do want to talk about the scene changes, each of which was a song from Chickabiddy. Who are fantastic.

Jane

Who are gorgeous. And the music was beautiful. But a three minute song between each 10 minute play, when less than a minute was needed for the very minimal scene changes stretched things out unnecessarily.  And was kind of an insult to the musicians.

Mary

I agree, it was poor use of them. As great as they are, it’s hard to play the scene changes. So I think we both agreed that this was a rough night at the theater. Do you want to talk about what positives stood out to you?

Jane

Well, obviously #SuiteReality. I think was far out of the league of the other work.

Mary

I agree. I also think that Jenna Kuerzi was a standout actress for the night. She clearly delineated her two characters and managed to add some depth to them.

Jane

Yes, even dealing with the barest stereotypes I think she was able to, by sheer force of will, help us imagine why these women might be behaving the way that they were.  I also saw some potential in Estragon’s Boot, by Daniella Vinitski Mooney. I think it was a solid piece of absurdist writing, which may very well have had an arc, although the hamfisted direction managed to flatten it out into 10 minutes of jokey yelling. I’d like to see what might happen to it with a director who had a better sense of the text and the style. Part of what I hate about these festivals is that the direction tends to shoot for the lowest common denominator- cheap laughs or bludgeoning sentimentality.

Mary

I couldn’t get past the yelling. The intensity poured into every syllable that left all of them meaningless.

Jane

That’s the direction, though. That’s not the acting.  Anything else stand out for you?

Mary

Not that I want to highlight. What stood out for me from the evening as a whole was how completely disconnected from the world we live in this entire night felt. These are intense, dangerous times, and theater is an visceral art form. Yet most of the ideas presented on that stage were about 10 years old. Nothing new, nothing challenging, nothing to incite action or offer comfort.

Jane

And more to the point, nothing human. This playwrighting would be extremely disappointing normally, but it’s pretty infuriating right now.

Mary

Remember though, ReVamp is offering new playwrights a chance to get their feet wet. This is how they learn. Ten minute plays let writers stretch and take risks.

Jane

I don’t think that’s true. Jeremy Gable is hardly a new playwright. He was a member of the Foundry and has been produced multiple times. Ditto Alex Dremen. Greg T. Nanni has been on the scene for many years. I won’t bother wondering why a theater company whose mission is to give a voice to female artists had 3 fairly established male writers on the roster. Anyway, there’s nothing in ReVamp’s marketing that says this is some kind of lab. It’s presented as a final performance, and I think we have to treat it that way.

Mary

I think all 10 minute play festivals are a kind of lab.

Jane

The purpose of a lab is to get better. If we pull punches in our responses to the work, we’re not helping.

Mary

That’s true. I just don’t want to lose sight of the value of the exercise. But I do think that it’s fair to talk about what didn’t work. And so much didn’t work here. Let’s look at Nanni’s Burn the Witch, which was one of the few plays to have some kind of narrative arc. Nanni gives us two hateful men with no redeeming qualities, and no motivation for their hate other than that they are dumb jerks. They are egged on by a female youtube star to turn on a female…what? Journalist?

Jane

Political candidate. Whose platform is gender equality I think? It doesn’t really matter, she’s as bland and generalized an idea as the men are. Although Nanni still finds a way to make a woman the real villain here, as she mobilizes the hapless idiots.

Mary

Yes. The idea that men are so dumb they’ll do whatever a blonde tells them too is hardly feminist.

Jane

This play feels like it was written by a misogynist who is trying to get into the head of a feminist.

Mary

Why?

Jane

The women have no agency. They’re victims or seductresses controlling hapless men with their allure. Men are dumb slaves to sex. These are not feminist ideas. These are misogynist ideas.

Mary

A couple of the plays dealt with feminism. Particularly #SuiteReality and The Second Sex. Which was truly baffling.

Jane

Bizarre. It felt like it had been written by a teen drama class. Who were these women? They had no distinguishing characteristics, no desires, no motivation and nothing to do except take selfies and spout the completely random, disjointed opinions of the playwright on such groundbreaking, relevant topics as “can we call each other ‘bitch?’” and “how could a popular guy be a rapist?” They’re vaguely harassed by a backwards baseball cap wearing cliche straight out of a mid 90’s PSA…

Mary

Was he wearing a baseball cap?

Jane

I mean. Metaphorically.

Mary

And carrying a skateboard.

Jane

Right. The only reason I knew that he had harassed them is that one of the women crossed her arms after he exited, having been kicked, I think? The strangest thing for me about this scene is how a woman could have written it, and three women performed in it, and it was so profoundly untruthful. No stakes. No consequences. And then grandma shows up.

Mary

To blame the victim.

Jane

Right. She– for some reason– stops her car, and gets outside of it to address the women still inside.

Mary

A convertible?

Jane.

Who knows. And she admonishes the young girls, telling them that they “vote” every time they “don’t let” a man touch them or harass them. Inviting, of course, the familiar corollary…

Mary

When we “let” them, we’re responsible for what happens. God, why do I keep voting for gropes!?  How can something be so infuriating and so boring at the same time?  Speaking of which Grilling the Octopus.

Jane

I guess Alex Dremann is positing that the brutal, sometimes deadly political division in our nation continues because it’s just so fucking sexy?

Mary

I think he’s imagining an encounter from the real website politicalmismatch.com. Which is an interesting setup.

Jane

But not an interesting execution. There are no stakes because either party could just walk away at any moment and lose nothing. And there are no surprises. The liberal is liberal, the conservative is conservative. We have no insight into what makes them this way, they’re just dummy characters with no real desires.

Mary

Yeah. Frustratingly, 90% of the dialogue in this play is two people giving each other the most completely standard available arguments for the most well trod ground of controversial issues.

Jane

While seated. Better direction could have helped this one, too. There seemed to be an attempt at audience address that would have given us a little insight into the characters’ thoughts and feelings, but it was too muddy and only once, so it may not have been. But really, there’s not much to work with.

Mary

I’m not sure why Dremann bothered to imagine this date, if he was going to imagine it going exactly as you’d imagine it would go. But there is really no surprise and nothing to say about what having dramatically different values does to intimacy or relationships or even sex. Which are worthwhile questions.

Jane

They both want to have sex with each other.

Mary

But why? And what does that mean? I think it’s worth bringing up the non traditional casting of Van Johnson as conservative Ben.

Jane

Yes, I’ve been thinking about that, too. Something doesn’t sit right with putting a black actor in that role, and not grappling with what it might mean to be a black conservative. Particularly because at some point he has to say “every life matters.” It’s really tone deaf not to notice or own that you have a black actor basically saying “All Lives Matter.” Honestly, that juxtaposition is more interesting than anything else in the play.

Mary

The only other poc actor outside of #SuiteReality, as far as I could tell, was Twoey Truong in Motion Capture. That part wasn’t written for an Asian American actress specifically, but in this case it didn’t matter.

Jane

Shout out to Tammy Duckworth, we have broad ideas of what a combat vet looks like. What did you think of Motion Capture?

Mary

I expected more from Jeremy Gable. I’ve been at a couple of readings of his work, and I liked it. But Motion Capture is a straw man argument against the gamification of war. Gable’s heroine doesn’t seem to care if she loses her contract, nothing is at stake. She just gets to make a heroic argument (presumably Gable’s) against a cowering two dimensional executive and then head out. The fact that she’s threatening him with an unloaded gun is pretty apt.

Jane

I agree. You know, it’s a complaint about progressive minded people that we think everyone who doesn’t agree with us is just an idiot or a sellout. These playwrights definitely support that theory. All of this work is really smug. And really dehumanizing of the other side.

Mary

I think it’s ok to satirize the other side, or to tear them a new one, honestly, when it comes to racism and misogyny.

Jane

I think so, too. The standup comic in Hello! Sadness! is a perfect example of that. But all of these plays diminished the threat of the people who would threaten us, by depicting them as not just stupid, but also not very powerful. In The Second Sex and Motion Capture the powerful are easily overcome by a sermon from the oppressed. The idea that this happens is not very helpful, and doesn’t ring very true.

Mary

There are two shows that we haven’t really talked about, Pizza Rolls and Palin, and #SuiteReality. And I think it is perfect to put these two side by side. Pizza Rolls is a conversation between a white middle class mother and her son about the fact that he didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton.

Jane

Ah, yes. The very important question America needs to resolve before we can move forward in this trying time. “Which white people were right?” This play puts the very trivial concerns of middle class white liberals who are completely unaffected by the outcome of the election (as is evidenced by their leisurely conversation in their cozy kitchen) at the center. It’s completely myopic.

Mary

And we don’t even know what their positions were! The play was actually about the discomfort of the mother that her son had voted differently from him, which was echoed kind of clunkily in their disagreement about the correct way to make pizza rolls.

Jane

And it ends with them hugging and agreeing about how to make pizza rolls! Which again, is apt. The correct way to make pizza rolls actually has the same amount of import as what’s going on between this mother and son, whose relationship is in no way threatened. And they are in no way threatened by the consequences of their votes.

Mary

And then there’s #SuiteReality. A choreopoem about the #sayhername movement, which has struggled to gain recognition for black women murdered by the police even as the country focused on the stories of black men. When Tiffany Barrett, Ashley Ayanna, Ashley Spearman and Aliyah Isis took the stage, it was like suddenly we were in a completely different world.

Jane

Yeah. The real world. Where real things happen to real people.

Mary

TS Hawkins poem was beautiful, She’s incredibly deft with words, and her cast understood them in their bones. #SuiteReality follows knowingly in the tradition of for colored girls.

Jane

Yes. And that really amplified the feeling of a litany. As each of the names of the murdered women is listed, the connection to previous work sends the list backwards in time to encompass black women throughout. This play understood not only the political context that it exists in but also the theatrical context. The staging from Kalif Troy was bare and effective, nothing distracting from the words and emotions.

Mary

There was just such a strong contrast between the hypothetical, hyper-acted and low stakes worlds of all of the other pieces and the honest immediacy of this one. All three actresses were deeply compelling and deeply individual. But Aliyah Isis was riveting. The combination of her composure and innocence with the reality of what it is to be a little black girl in this American moment did not allow emotional distance.

Jane

It’s hard to know if Hawkins and Troy did this on purpose, but I think #SuiteReality ended up being a smart, necessary retort to the navel-gazing work that preceded it. When Isis says “This is for white folks” I knew I had been seen and called out. Hawkins knew who her audience would be, and she meant to take the opportunity to speak to them.

Mary

I love that call back, again, to for colored girls. And yes, you’re right. Hawkins came to pop the bubble.

Jane

And thank god.

 

2 thoughts on “Brief (Political) Encounters- Revamp Theater Company

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