In one of the most dramatically effective moments of Loy Webb’s, The Light, Genesis (Tiffany Oglesby) describes to her fiancé, Rashad (Jeffery Owen Freelon Jr.), how black women have been socialized to believe they have just two options in the wake of trauma: be strong or fall apart. In response, Rashad suggests he can carry some of that burden and offers his love as “option three.” With this Webb embarks on illuminating not only a series of important emotional truths but also some serious political ones. But, as the play’s title would suggest, for all its weighty content, at its heart this play is an uplifting character driven romance.
This has been an incredible year for the team at Rescripted. As we embark on 2018, we’d like to take some time to revisit not only some theatre highlights of the year, but accomplishments we have made as an organization in our first six months! The plays mentioned below are honored as Rescripted Recognized, productions that were memorable for their cultural standouts, for their artistic achievements, for their strong performances, and in some cases even for their controversies.
Victory Gardens Theater and Teatro Vista’s co-production of Fade, by Tanya Saracho, directed by Sandra Marquez is a compelling journey through class, race, and ambition. Marquez’s finely tuned direction enriches Saracho’s nuanced approach to the heightened and complicated world of power that these characters navigate. Continue reading “‘Fade’ Explores A Poignant Friendship Where Race But Not Class Intersect”
Federico García Lorca’s rural tragedy Yerma, is a deeply poetic exploration of a country woman’s isolation in mid-1930s Spain, and offers a cutting and emotional critique of Spanish Catholic Orthodoxy while the specter of Franco’s fascism looms; Lorca would be assassinated by Franco’s fascist supporters two years after the premiere of Yerma in his home province of Granada. Theatre Y and Red Tape’s co-production of a new English translation, adapted by ensemble member Héctor Álvarez and directed by Max Truax, is a confusing and perhaps unsuccessful update on Lorca’s classic text.
The play follows Yerma, a young married woman who greatly desires a son, and who for reasons unknown, though whispered about, does not have one despite two years of marriage to Juan, a wealthy sheep herder and farmer. Yerma’s world is one that is strictly divided along patriarchal gender lines: men rule the house and labor in the field, and women have children and care for their house and family. Lorca’s world is one that is dominated by Spanish Catholic Orthodoxy, and honor, purity, and piety drive the repressive sexual mores of the village. Throughout the play, Yerma struggles with her lack of children, unsure if she is barren (which is the English translation of her name) or if her husband is, while being unable to find out because she is bound by her marriage. She is pained by the passionless-ness of her life with Juan, and by the unfeeling platitudes of the village in the face of her longing to fulfill the one desire that would legitimize her as a woman. As the years pass, Yerma grows more and more bitter and resentful at her lack of children, and the increasing paranoia and coldness from her husband. She weathers multiple temptations to be unfaithful to her husband, including a passionate longing for Victor, a fellow villager, as the gossip of the village complicates her reputation. As the play reaches its climax, Yerma is driven by the crushing weight of her husband’s dominance, both over her daily life and the narrative around her childless-ness, to commit a violent transgression, which seals her life-long isolation and abandonment.
I had previously attended a production of Yerma in the original Spanish at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, NM, so when I arrived at The Ready, Theatre Y and Red Tape’s new space, I was interested to see what this new English translation, Chicago produced and directed production would bring.
This new adaptation by Héctor Álvarez altered Lorca’s original text in the pursuit of a Yerma that is more immediate and recognizable to 21st century Chicagoans. Truax and Álvarez shift the focus of the play away from Yerma’s relationship to her community and its morals and onto the personal frustration of Yerma’s sexual and maternal desires. While undoubtedly the two are connected, this shift results in the portrayal of Yerma as unsympathetic and unbalanced, and injects inevitability into the violence at the end of the play. Such inevitability seems to undo the work that Álvarez’s adaptation and Truax’s direction purport to do, i.e. critique contemporary toxic masculinity and misogyny.,. It is just as toxic to portray an allegory of women as inevitably violent and unbalanced as it is to uphold a society in which women’s only available options are limited to marriage and childbirth or lifelong celibacy. It seems that this production of Yerma is more interested in skewering men and masculinity and not in centering and uplifting a woman struggling in the midst of immense social pressure, at the cost of Lorca’s existing critique. All of this is not to say that Yerma must be sanitized and noble; however, if her tumultuous emotions and her final transgression are simply a component of her existence as a woman, and not the product of intense social isolation and the resulting emotional stress, is that not in line with the misogyny that Álvarez and Truax seek to expose?
Other perplexing choices include the questionable portrayal of one of the village women as sexually deviant, and therefore dangerous, because of her sexual attraction to Yerma. Truax’s choice to have this character portrayed as sexually aggressive and disinterested in Yerma’s consent or personal space sacrificed the legitimacy and reality of LBGTQ sexuality for shock value, while Yerma’s heterosexual encounters with Victor are portrayed as forbidden but entirely mutual. This removes responsibility and onus for social transgression from Victor and places it with Yerma. Throughout the play Victor is portrayed as much a victim of social stigma as Yerma, though then and undoubtedly now Victor’s white cis-male social standing would be completely intact, and his transgression a matter of ownership and not purity and inherent worth.
The set and costume design seemed heavily inspired by Pina Bausch’s 1975 choreography of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which Truax would doubtless be highly familiar with, given his training in postmodern choreography. The floor was covered from wall to wall with mulch-like bark pieces, and the women were dressed in simple white slips, the men in trousers with bare chests. Nicholas Tonozzi provided stirring musical composition, and the lighting by Taylor Ovca was splendid. Choreography by Benjamin Holliday Wardell, despite the perhaps treacherous terrain of the space, given that the actors had to navigate the audience being in the middle of the playing space. Wardell’s work translated successfully , as did the fight choreography by Morgan Massaro. The actors all played their parts beautifully as well, featuring Katie Simpson (Yerma), Victoria Walters Gilbert (Dolores), Katie Sherman (Maria) and Barbara Button (Pagan Old Woman) in leading roles. Each member of the chorus and ensemble acted wonderfully, as did Brendan J. Mulhern (Victor) and Cody W. Beyer (Juan) despite some awkwardness inhabiting Lorca’s heightened language.
As I left, I did so with many questions about the choices made in this production, though with none as to its stylishness nor with any as to the talent of these actors.
Fridays and Saturdays 7:30pm
$25 General Admission
$20 Students and Seniors (with ID)
4546 N. Western Ave,
For tickets visit http://www.theatre-y.com
Katie Sherman- Maria
Victoria Walters- Dolores
Barbara Button- Old Pagan Woman
Kris Tori- First Girl
Laurie Roberts- Second Girl
Cody Beyer- Juan
Brendan Mulhern- Victor
Tanner Bradshaw- Man 1
Héctor Álvarez- Man 2
Adrian Garcia- Man 3
Eric Roberts- Man 4
Arch Harmon- Man 5
Nicholas Wenz- Boy
Max Truax- Director
Héctor Álvarez- Translator/Adaptor
Nicholas Tonozzi- Composer & Music Director, Music Recordings
Eric Backus- Sound Designer
Kevlyn Hayes- Assistant Director
Joanna Iwanicka- Set Designer and Painter
Melissa Lorraine- Artistic Director & Costume/Make-Up Designer
Megan Massaro- Production Stage Manager/ Fight Choreographer
Taylor Ovca- Lighting Designer
Benjamin Holliday Wardell- Choreographer
Emily Altman and Vivienne Marie- Scenic Painters
Sue Kapp- Costume Construction
In today’s world that is seemingly fraught with violence and carnivalesque politics, Sylvester: or the Wicked Uncle at Lifeline is a shockingly refreshing piece. It deals mainly in the language of love, and portrays it as a game, complete with a massive game board set reminiscent of Chutes and Ladders designed by Alan Donahue. Dorothy Milne, director of this production and Artistic Director at Lifeline, delivers a show that ultimately delights the heart. Continue reading “‘Sylvester: or the Wicked Uncle’ is a Romantic Delight”
When Barbara Lhota learned of Russell Stamm’s 1940s comic strip, The Invisible Scarlet O’Neil, she felt compelled to revive the title character. The comic, which ran for sixteen years in the now defunct Chicago Times, featured one of the first female superheroes, predating Wonder Woman by a year. It struck the playwright as both appropriate and ironic that Scarlet’s superpower is invisibility. In a way familiar to many women, Scarlet leverages the advantage of being unseen. Under the cloak of her invisibility, she aids the vulnerable, while in her professional life as a reporter she fights alongside her compatriots for visibility and recognition. Lhota’s stage version is a perfect fit for Babes with Blades, a company devoted to using stage combat to tell women’s stories. The show, currently running at The Factory Theater, is fun and fresh while invoking the spirit of the period. Continue reading ““The Invisible Scarlet O’Neill” is a Fun, Feminist Revival of a Classic Comic Book Heroine”