Blue Stockings: Feminism 101

publicity photo for Blue Stockings

Kevin Nguyen and Zoë Autumn in Blue Stockings (Photo by Emily Cooper)

I wish there was a time store where I could go and demand a refund.

The subject matter of Jessica Swale’s 2013 script is potentially fascinating. Set in 1896, Blue Stockings is about women’s struggle to be granted degrees at Cambridge University. The story features four female students, all gifted scientists, who are members of Girton College, the first college at Cambridge to accept female scholars. If the push for accreditation is successful, these four could be the first women to receive formal degree qualification.

But Swale’s script is politically heavy handed, and it doesn’t find its focus until the second act. Including intermission, the evening clocks in at three hours. (When I realized there was going to be a second act, I suppressed a moan.) [Read more…]

Everybody: Yes, including you

Publicity shot for Everybody at Studio 58

Few of us know when our number’s going to be up; in this production, actors don’t know what roles they’ll play.
(Photo of Kevin Nguyen by Emily Cooper)

I love this show about as much as I’ve loved anything in two years.

Early on in Everybody, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s adaptation of the fifth-century morality play Everyman, Death, who kickstarts the action, says, “You’re all dying, starting now.” Of course, we’re all dying all the time, we’d just rather not think about it — and, the script argues, that’s to our detriment: fleeing into distraction, we fail to live fully.

Because this is a morality play, the characters and situations are archetypal. When Death randomly picks Everybody for imminent demise, they beg to be allowed company on their journey. Death grants them a brief respite to try to find someone brave enough to go to the grave with them. (Because the casting of Everybody changes with each performance, I’m going to use gender-neutral pronouns throughout this review.)

One of the things I love most about Everybody is that it is so deeply theatrical. Jacobs-Jenkins sets the play in a theatre, which is, like life, an arena of illusion. (Scholars believe Everyman may be based on a Buddhist fable.) As the action progresses, Everybody recounts a dream to other characters, their fellow doomed, and there are constant questions about what’s real and what’s a mirage. (Theatre relishes the space for self-awareness and reflection that its artifice allows.) [Read more…]

The Doll’s House Project: theatrical space isn’t digital space

The Doll's House Project, Studio 58

Theatrical space can look empty on video. Still, this show is strong. (Photo by Amir Tabatabaei)

The Doll’s House Project has huge things going for it, including playwright Henrik Ibsen’s shifting moral perspectives and a gallery of fine performances from a bumper crop of student actors. But Laara Sadiq has directed the piece for the stage even though it’s being delivered primarily online.* [Read more…]

Anon(ymous): no need to introduce yourself


Studio 58 is mounting Anon(ymous)

These two can act: Ashley Cook as Nobody and Isaac George-Hotchkiss as Pascal.
(Photo by Emily Cooper)

If good intentions were all that mattered, Anon(ymous) would be worth seeing. [Read more…]

Cabaret: so many spectacular elements

Paige Fraser is playing the Emcee in Studio 58's production of Cabaret.

(Photo of Paige Fraser by David Cooper)

Although it doesn’t have enough emotional depth, this Cabaret is dazzling in many ways.

Cabaret is about Clifford Bradshaw, a young American novelist who arrives in Berlin on New Year’s Eve, 1931. Although he’s had sex with men and is conflicted about his orientation, he quickly falls into an affair with Sally Bowles, a British singer who works at the Kit Kat Club. Unlike the 1972 movie, the stage musical also contains a subplot about a romance between Cliff’s landlady Fraülein Schneider and a Jewish tenant named Schultz.

In his directorial debut, Josh Epstein gleefully stuffs Studio 58 with so much action and imagery—with so many theatrical ideas—it’s like he’s fisting the place (and the place is digging it.) Ten minutes before the show had even started, I was already getting goosebumps of delight. The boys and girls of the Kit Kat Club were parading around in the sexy, gender-screwing costumes provided by Amy McDougall. (I really want a pair of those rhinestoned short shorts.) And I love the little pre-show shows that Epstein has thrown in: a striptease performed by a voluptuous nurse, and a boxing match between a couple of flexing young studs. [Read more…]

Mortified: smells like teen girl spirit

Studio 59, in association with Touchstone Theatre, is presenting Mortified.

Isaac Mazur and Emily Jane King are two of the excellent young performers in Amy Rutherford’s Mortified (Photo by Emily Cooper)

This might seem like an odd thing to say but, to me, Mortified feels whole and perfect in the same way that a body can feel whole and perfect: it’s just that organic, sensual—and complicated.

And, like being embodied, Mortified is more than a touch surreal. Playwright Amy Rutherford has set the action in the dreamlike space of an empty swimming pool. That’s where Woman conjures up Girl—herself from 25 years earlier—because Woman is so fucked up about a sexual relationship that Girl had with a guy named Ty, starting when she was 13 and he was 21, that, in her adult life, Woman is frozen. [Read more…]

Incognito Mode: not stealthy enough

Studio 58 is presenting Marcus Youssef Incognito Mode: A Play About Porn

Lauchlin Johnston’s pixelated set is the star of Incognito Mode: A Play About Porn.

Incognito Mode examines porn—while wearing rubber gloves. Amazingly, given the subject, there isn’t a millisecond of eroticism and there’s no real immersion in shame. This might be a dangerous thing to say of a show about porn, but I wanted it to go deeper.

To create the script, writer Marcus Youssef worked with the fifth-term students at Studio 58, who helped to devise the show and who are appearing in it. The script is loosely structured on the relationships among a group of friends who graduated from high school not that long ago.

In that bunch, there’s a couple whose names are Jason and Jasmine. He’s addicted to porn. But all we really see in this narrative thread are Jason’s fruitless attempts to address the dreaded subject and Jasmine’s understandable frustration at his inability to do so. What people seem to forget in stories about addiction is that there’s a lure: pleasure. There’s some kind of overwhelming intoxication. Abandon. And that’s the point. Until your self-loathing slaps you in face and makes you long for oblivion again. [Read more…]

The Skin of Our Teeth: Maybe not this time

Studio 58 is presenting Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth.

Can a temptress like Sabina bring about the collapse of civilization, or is that question flat-out sexist? (Photo of Erin Palm by Ross den Otter)

It’s easy to see why Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth was hailed as a great work when it premiered in 1942. And it’s easy to see why director Sarah Rodgers would choose to stage it in 2018. But that doesn’t mean it’s worth watching for two and a half hours.

The Skin of Our Teeth is a deliberately allegorical—and often comic—examination of the perpetual human cycle of tragedy and resilience. And it’s chock full of anachronisms. Although the play’s vernacular places the action in the forties, Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus are clearly Adam and Eve. “Antrobus” is derived from the Greek anthropos, which means “human” or “person”. And, in a little aside, Mrs. Antrobus, whose name is Maggie, is slyly referred to as Eva. She’s not the only family member who has undergone a name change either. Her son Henry was called Cain until that unfortunate incident with Abel. [Read more…]

Wilderness is a thicket of good intentions and overstatement

Studio 58 is producing Wilderness.

Playing Cole, Nolan McConnell-Fidyk understands the strength delivering his lines like a person, not an actor.

This production makes a weak script worse.

The subject matters. Wilderness is about young adults who are struggling with mental health issues, including addictions. Against the young people’s will, in many cases, their parents have sent them to a therapeutic camp in the Utah wilderness.

Playwrights Seth Bockley and Anne Hamburger—the latter sent her son to a wilderness camp—developed their script based on interviews with other families who have firsthand experience. But the results are choppy. With multiple characters and two timeframes, the script contains very few sustained scenes and precious little narrative development. Characters often stand and spew the content of their interviews, and the result feels more like disjointed reportage than compelling theatre. [Read more…]

As You Like It: Is Shakespeare’s comedy the right vehicle for a meditation on the refugee crisis?

Michael Scholar Jr.'s As You Like It draws inspiration from the refugee crisis.

Playing Orlando in As You Like It, William Edward serves notice that he is an actor to be watched.

There’s a lot going on. And a bunch of it works.

In setting As You Like It, Shakespeare’s comedy about banishment, director Michael Scholar Jr. draws inspiration from the global refugee crisis. The combination isn’t always a good fit, but it does result in the creation of a multi-textured, sometimes surprising world. [Read more…]

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