by Argenis Ovalles
In a post-apocalyptic world created by Nick Mecikalski, where climate change has flooded the majority of a totalitarian America, there is a little shack. Like an art studio, there are paint cans and papers all around a TV and a couch. We don’t see what’s on said TV, but we do hear The Announcer, also known as Hello Hello, played by Giselle LeBlue Gant. Said Announcer seems to be on every show all the time; at least that’s what the girls seem to see. Pen and Mar, played by Sophie Becker and Amber Jaunai, are witnessing The Announcer advertise a poem contest for artists such as them. But when one wins over the other, conspiracy theories arise and plot twists occur. It is, as the play’s name suggests, all Really, Really Gorgeous.
The set design, created by Crushed Red, of the little shack was perfect; it reminded me of the remains of a New York studio apartment. I saw it as soon as the audience took their seats and noticed the couple. Right next to it, a few feet away, there was a table with coffee mugs, a plant, and two chairs. creating an office-like setting and two separate scenic areas. The lighting, courtesy of Taylor Lilly, helped distinguish between the scenes of Pen seeing Mar on TV and Mar being declared a clairvoyant.
The theme of the play was easy to decipher in this dystopian new world. All three ladies embodied one thing: the instinct of survival. Pen immediately felt that something was not right when she adamantly states that she never remembered submitting her poem, although Mar reassured her that she did. And when true colors were shown, Pen risked her life against a totalitarian state to ensure that Mar would achieve her goals of survival without compromising her identity.
On the other hand, Mar does the exact opposite: she conspires against Pen so that she doesn’t submit her poem, thus backstabbing her. She belittles Pen when they confront each other over webcam. She lies and makes fictitious Americans believe that she is a clairvoyant that talks to the water. Mar even tries to get rid of Pen through all force necessary. Yet, she claims to be doing all of it because of love. Despite both ladies going out of their way to survive through different extremes, no one beats Hello Hello.
The Announcer, Hello Hello, is the most comic part of the play. She constantly breaks the fourth wall to engage audience participation as well as cursing at them. She is the biggest plot twist. After meeting Pen and revealing that she genuinely has infinite knowledge and uses it to survive, she goes on live TV to make her audience turn against the President, who has been discovered as a fraud (Mar at this point). Despite playing a certain level of dumb, she waits until the end to reveal to Pen another theme of the play: Sacrifice. Yes, the main characters have been making sacrifices from the very beginning. But it is The Announcer that helps Pen see the light. For her to be at Mar’s side entirely, she must develop a dictator mentality but has too big of a heart for that. Ultimately, Pen achieves her goals by becoming a dictator: she kills The Announcer and stands next to her lover and delivers false promises.
Directing by Miranda Haymon was an outstanding guide. When silence would take over, we still understood Pen’s emotions through her eyes and facial expressions. Even Mar’s occasional stutter was on point. Mar would stumble back and forth in her words and restart her sentences whenever she would lie. The fight scenes, choreographed by Amber Jaunai, added tension to the story leaving me at the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next. Who would fall? Who would survive? My favorite scene is when Pen murders the secret service agents. You don’t see any bodies dropping on the floor – all you see is Pen making spy poses as she aims at different corners, shooting with her finger gun as a faint red light invades the stage. It is a scene resembling a carnage, and yet, with all of the components Sophie Becker gives us, the audience couldn’t help but laugh, including myself.
Before the flood takes them, you should rush to The Tank and see Really, Really Gorgeous, as this is a limited run.
Photos: Mari Uchida
The Tank (312 West 36 Street) in association with Lucy Powis and The HodgePodge Group. From January 23 to February 9, 2020. Run time: 90 minutes, no intermission. www.thetanknyc.org