Saturday, January 26, 2019

“Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again,” captivates and frustrates at Dobama

Theater is representative of the era from which it comes.  We live in an era of chaos.  This is a time of questioning with few answers.  It is an era of societal, political, and economic instability.  It is an era of news and fake-nears.  It is an era of headache-causing conflicts and contradictions.

Governments are questioning their philosophical roles.  Politicians--their actions, their philosophies, their roles, are up for question.  The status of sexual roles--what should be not only the definition of sexual identity, but what role should each of the genders play is up for interpretation.   The role of theological and philosophical beliefs is up for grabs.  And, the questioning and search for answers goes on and on.

Alice Birch’s “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again,” which is a grouping of vignettes that asks how to revolutionize language, relationships, work, and life, mirrors our society.

The script, which is unusual, as it does not identify the names of characters or even what line should be said by which actor, does not follow the usual format of beginning, middle and end.  It does start, but the usual structure of the first part being exposition, followed by a conflict or conflicts, followed by a solution to the problem, is not followed. 

After its beginning, the play, like the society it is commenting upon, falls quickly into chaos. 

Nathan Motta, Dobama’s Artistic Director, states of the show, “The Royal Shakespeare Company gave a group of select playwrights the opportunity to write a new piece of theatre based on the prompt "Well-behaved women rarely make history." Alice Birch studied various writings by feminists and emerged with “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again,” a theatrical manifesto for the #MeToo era.”  It is that, but, oh, so much more.  

Motta, goes on, “Influenced by Caryl Churchill, Sarah Kane, and other ground-breaking women playwrights, Birch's play requires an ensemble of four powerful women and one token male to bring this unapologetically provocative, in-your-face text to life. This is a play of humor, strength, and punk rock attitude. WARNING: This play is not well-behaved.”

Also, the play is not for everyone to see and/or appreciate. 

Only 80-minutes long, with no intermission, the production may bewilder and confound.  As Motta indicated in his opening night, pre-production seminar, “this is a language piece.  It is a risk play.  The topic, the language, the style is about broken boundaries.”  He wisely advised, “You always don’t have to understand.”

Yes, that’s the clue to “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.”  To appreciate what is transpiring on stage, sit and listen.  Don't’ try and figure out where the plot is going…there is no plot.  Don’t figure out what the speeches mean…the meaning is going to be your emotional, and secondarily, your logical reactions, which may not be readily apparent and may never be clear to you.  Be prepared for anything and let that “anything” be what it is.

Sound like doubletalk?  Not really.  Birch isn’t giving answers.  She is exposing, in a non-linear form, a series of discordant ideas.  The script states, “There is a point where the thought is just not enough.”

We may be able to trace a line of where gender inequality comes from.   How attitudes and prescribed actions of males and females, through the influence of church, state and societal patterns became set.  There may be an understanding why the likes of Donald Trump became POTUS and why he acts and reacts as he does.  We may be able to grasp some concept of Brexit, the mid-eastern on-going crisis, the basis for Arab-Israeli misunderstandings, where various refugee problems stem from, and the seeming non-ending need for wars.  But the answers, or how to confront and deal with the answers, are harder to discover and implement.

Dobama’s production, under the creative direction of Sarah Elizabeth Wansley tends to be captivating, if frustrating.  The flow, line interpretation, use of music and sound, all help build Birch’s writing.  The cast, Lisa Louise Langford, Nina Domingue, Rachel Lee Kolis, Miranda Leeann and Abraham McNeil Adams, each does an excellent job of interpreting their various roles with clarity of purpose.  But the ever-evasive answer to “What’s this all about,” remains elusive.

Capsule judgement:  Maybe the clue to gaining some concept of “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again,” is to look at the hundreds of shoes that totally surround the three-sided thrust Dobama stage, and realize that they are all different styles, sizes and colors, and accept that they, like the words of the script, are a clue to the chaos of our era, and though some may fit some, they will not fit all, and though some may serve one purpose, they each may fit another.  As such, the play, or any one pair of shoes, each is not for everyone!

“Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again,” runs through February 17, 2019 at Dobama, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

Next up at Dobama:  Jennifer Haley’s THE NETHER from March 8-31, 2019.