Tuesday, April 19, 2016

186. Review: REVOLT. SHE SAID. REVOLT. AGAIN. (seen April 13, 2016)

"You Say You Want a Revolution"

Stars range from 5-1.

As the title of this unusual piece by 29-year-old, award-winning British playwright Alice Birch suggests, Revolt. She Said. Revolt. Again. is not your average play. Originally produced in England in 2014, where it was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company for its Midsummer Mischief Festival, it’s now being given its U.S. premiere at the Soho Rep (where else?).
Molly Bernard, Daniel Abeles. Photo: Julieta Ce
Birch’s plotless, semi-absurdist material takes an angry feminist ax to many issues, often hilariously, but as the play—only a pinch longer than an hour—progresses, its tone increasingly darkens. The use of lights (Yi Zhao) and sound (Palmer Hefferan), together with fog heavier than a miserable day in London, bring the piece to a shockingly apocalyptic conclusion.
Eboni Booth, Molly Bernard. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
The piece requires exceptional skill from its director and actors, which it gets in this terrific staging. A glance at the script reveals the problems Birch has set for her interpreters, who are warned by the playwright, “this play should not be well behaved.” Except for one late section, none of the dialogue is preceded by character names or designations like “Man,” “Woman,” or the like, the punctuation is minimal, and most of the scenes and scenelets in its episodic, non-linear structure have little narrative connection with one another. One’s first impression is of verbal mashed potatoes, yet, in performance, everything becomes clear.
Eboni Booth, Jennifer Ikeda. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
When you enter Soho Rep’s white-walled, rectangular space from the pink-lit entrance area, you step up to and walk across designer Adam Rigg’s raised wooden stage to take your seat in the bleachers on the other side. As the audience assembles and curtain time approaches, a clutch of young people in their street clothes, backpacks, and so on, stand around, casually chatting; four of them (three women and one man) turn out to be the play’s cast members. Except for one scene set at a grandmother’s dinner table—in preparation for which the company decorates the background with a lush collection of potted plants and trees—there are no props. The play’s physical needs are generally left to a couple of folding chairs.
Molly Bernard, Daniel Abeles, Eboni Booth, Jennifer Ikeda. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
Each scene is titled with a projected slogan (Hannah Wasileski is responsible for the projections) that capsulizes its content: “REVOLUTIONIZE THE LANGUAGE (INVERT IT),” “REVOLUTIONIZE THE WORLD (DO NOT MARRY),” “REVOLUTIONIZE THE WORK (ENGAGE WITH IT),” “REVOLUTIONIZE THE BODY (MAKE IT SEXUALLY AVAILABLE, CONSTANTLY),” etc. In the first scene, for example, a young man (Daniel Abeles) and woman (Molly Bernard) are very graphically discussing their sexual desires and she takes every opportunity to invert the male-inflected, possessive inclinations of his words. Other scenes stick pins in subjects like employment, marriage, body image, rape, pornography, and family relations. By the revolutionary end, which condemns the failure of feminism's’ progress, the women wish to tear down the monetary system, overthrow the government, destroy all jobs, and, among other things, “eradicate all men,” with the tag line being “Who knew that life could be so awful.”
Eboni Booth. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
Feminists will love this stuff and others will want to argue with it, but it will certainly make people talk about what they’ve seen. And, since it’s staged by Lileana Blain-Cruz with such fiery intelligence and given such sterling performances by Abeles, Bernard, Eboni Booth, and Jennifer Ikeda, each in multiple roles, it's unlikely anyone will be unimpressed by its theatrical power.  
Daniel Abeles, Molly Bernard, Jennifer Ikeda, Eboni Booth. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.

Soho Rep
46 Walker Street, NYC
Through May 15