by Monica Charline Brown
The newest production in IRT 3B’s Development series, #liberated, is on point with where cutting-edge New York theater is headed. Envisaged and scripted by actress Lillian Meredith, the play is the product of The Living Room, an eight woman contemporary theatrical ensemble. This group of artists, committed to bringing new work to New York audiences through a feminist lens, has been working on #liberated for over five years.
Classical orchestra music fills the darkness as lights come up on five twenty-something women dancing Zumba in the living room, in front of a laptop on a coffee table. With wine glasses filled and Chinese food delivered, the typical “girls night” ensues. This is the habitual start for a meeting of WIPE – also known as the Sister Support Group for the Daily Trials of Being a Woman. As they gab over a characteristically anti-feminist Alexander Wang billboard, a girl in a trendy outfit, invited by one of the members, comes into their “safe space” (clearly contrasting their pajama and yoga pants vibe). After a bit of discussion and weariness, the newbie is welcomed to the group.
Popular music, focusing on promiscuity and degrading women, interludes scene changes in club fashion. Realizing how misogynistic the porn industry is, yet how most of them partake in viewing, the ladies generate an assignment to “show and tell” a porn video that excites each of them. The task spawns a talk about how the porn world could be changed. Could porn still be pleasurable for both men and women with a more equal representation between the sexes? Then, after some resistance, they agree to try an experiment for themselves by making their own porn tapes.
Fantasies range from the farmers market to the office to retreats in the mountains. Some are even more ethereal, like fairy princess porn, or an erotic dance piece, and even giving “birth” to an orgasm. Filming different porn every week on their iPhones, they finish the project with a viewing party. Feeling feminist empowered (and dare I say #liberated?) and again, after some resistance, WIPE goes public and posts the videos online. Climbing the social media fame ladder in minutes, people from all over reach out to them as a source of inspiration. They continue to make videos, using their newfound fame to fight back against trolls. Hilarity ensues as they literally act out the negative comments posted against their efforts.
Just as they experience the peak of stardom juggling media appearances, the fun and games screech to a harsh halt. Somehow, a hacker has released an article stating every woman’s name, address, and social security number. As they each had already been receiving death threats and experiencing sexual assault in public, the threat of stolen identities and endangered personal safety, triggers them to fake their suicides for the media. Now off the grid, they retreat to South Dakota and connect with feminist co-ops around the world. The coalition of women still manages to inspire, in spite of the dark situation the girls have gotten themselves into, in the name of sexual empowerment.
Co-directors Rachel Karp and Jaki Bradley bring to light the all too current issue of the price women pay for seeking sexual liberation. Amidst this microscopic lens of inspection, it really seems like everything females do for their own pleasure is criticized and stripped down by a male dominant and male empowered society. Lillian Meredith as Lillian plays the incredulous leader to Taylor Shurte’s reluctant turned motivated Marianna. Zoe Sophia Garcia’s friendly Zoe, contrasted to Gabby Sherba’s ditzy but lovable Gabby, paired with Madison Welterlen’s go getter, unafraid Maggie and Tamar Del Rosso’s confident Jaki, brand a perfect ensemble. The women feed off each other the entire show, dually in comedic and dramatic moments, so much so that the creative process must have been a dream.
Shout outs to Scot Gianellis’s precise lighting design, Ben Vigus’s characteristic sound design, Frank Oliva’s atmospheric set and props design, and Heather McDevitt Barton’s representative costume design.
Looking forward to future collaborations of The Living Room!
#liberated. The IRT Theater (154 Christopher Street, 3 Floor #B – between Greenwich and Washington Streets). irttheater.org/3b-development-series/liberated. Tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2483664.
Photos: Jefferson White