by Sonia Roberts
Alice Birch’s explosion of a play snaps us into a re-examination of the female experience, cleverly beginning with a series of vignettes in which the socially constructed ideas of sex, work, and marriage are broken down and challenged. Titles of scenes are projected before us – in REVOLUTIONIZE THE LANGUAGE. (INVERT IT), a man (Daniel Abeles) asks a woman (Molly Bernard) to spread her legs, and she answers, “But first. First. Could you spread yours?” which certainly throws him off his game. They get to the act of intercourse, and she insists that she will take her vagina and put it on him before he is in her, and he says, “You can’t Take your vagina…You cannot Take a a a a a Gap,” to which she responds, “My Vagina is an Organ, my Vagina is not a Gap” – a fierce, potent line that declares Birch’s mission in Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again., energetically directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz.
In REVOLUTIONIZE THE WORLD. (DO NOT MARRY), a woman (Jennifer Ikeda) reacts to a proposal pragmatically, telling her partner she has no desire to become “your possession, your property, a thing you own – given to you by a man I don’t really speak to anymore holding a bunch of fucking bluebells.” And in REVOLUTIONIZE THE WORK. (ENGAGE WITH IT). a woman (Eboni Booth) tells her boss she doesn’t want to work Mondays anymore and stands her ground despite promises of spa days and happy hours and chocolate bars and most delightful of all, a “work handbag.” Birch’s first few vignettes are inventive, fast-paced, and deliciously funny, the talented 4-person ensemble having expertly mastered her rhythmic language. Birch’s characters assert their power and intellect, refusing to cave to the conventions that seek to stifle them. Adam Rigg’s scenic design, consisting of a couple of folding chairs and a huge assortment of potted plants, lends itself well to defining different worlds with powerful minimalism, which Yi Zhao’s lighting design beautifully complements.
The play takes an uncomfortable and ultimately unsuccessful turn during a scene about motherhood that turns into a bloodbath of self-mutilation, and there it starts to lose us. Having relied so heavily on sharp humor and deeply familiar set-ups to unlock the stifling conventions of womanhood that Birch’s characters break apart with their power and intellect, as soon as the structure that’s sucked us in begins to collapse, the pace and energy drop and the story becomes hazy. We’re left with a final image seemingly pulled straight from a Taylor Swift music video that feels forced and confusing rather than empowering, leaving us with the dated and infuriating idea that feminists are trying to eradicate men rather than fight for equality. Perhaps Birch is pointing to that stereotype on purpose, but it’s not clear how she got there.
Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.
at Soho Rep (46 Walker St.)
Extended to May 15; tickets at www.sohorep.org
Photo: Julieta Cervantes