by: Alix Cohen
Five women literally prepare dinner in an evocative, functional, 1950s kitchen. (Excellent Set by Noelle Ginefri.) At the end of the play, we’re invited to taste the stew. They read aloud, muse, and pontificate on woman’s place in society, turning towards, though never relating to one another. The fourth wall comes and goes. At no point is one involved with individuals (these are not characters), except perhaps on an intellectual level. If you let the play wash over you, there are passages of interest and moments of pleasure, but clarity of vision remains elusive, reaction muddled.
Nicole Ansari, Winsome Brown, Joan Juliet Buck, Sadie Jemmett, and Yibin Li speak of women- their homemaking days and historical repression “What a lot of thinking old men saved us;” house vs. home; mothers “A mother gives her body over to her children. They eat her, hit her, sleep on her…;” children “There’s never enough room for children in a house. They route and they seek…;” men “You have to really LIKE men in order to love them” (this elicits laughter); sex; sorrow/alcohol; security; fear…oddly, there’s no mention of love.
Apparently based on both Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” and Marguerite Duras’ “La Vie Materielle,” speeches only occasionally follow train of thought one to the next. Sadie Jemmett, who looks like a young Mary Travers, sings and plays her own folksy songs on guitar. Any lyrical illumination of previous subject matter is tenuous at best. Yibin Yi ably contributes violin solos, one of which is quite stirring. It’s clear that neither musician is an actress, though both have lines. French language numbers are, but for one, frustratingly untranslated.
Several times, the ladies break into simple dance steps embodying agreement/ sisterhood. The best of these, seemingly out of nowhere- well, after a French song which says who knows what, lifts both the level of entertainment and audience investment: An otherwise country-bumpkin looking, buttoned-up Nicole Ansari, takes her hair down and launches into fully dressed burlesque. Each woman follows in her own fashion. That this parenthesis includes the oldest of the bunch, an otherwise physically restrained, Winsome Brown, ostensibly playing Virginia Woolf, is curiously refreshing.
What, you may ask, has any of this to do with Shakespeare’s sister? The iconic playwright was the third child of eight. His sister (was there only one?), they tell us, died young. Hypothetic theatrical aspirations are used to illustrate opportunities denied to women who might’ve been creative contributors to society. Observation that having given birth to 13 children (common at the time), one would hardly have had time to evolve as an artist, acts as punctuation to the brief chapter.
Irina Brook’s compendium feels as if a great number of theatrical techniques were mixed in a bowl with literary segments and pulled from a hat. Direction suffers from the intentional distancing of abstract women and speechifying. Lines and expressions are anticipated. Monologues are rarely delivered with feeling. This is an intriguing premise.
Higgledy piggledy costumes (no credit listed) range from suitable to the period of the set, to contemporary Soho. This lack of cohesive overview may be an effort to make the piece seem timeless and universal, instead it further confuses.
*Photo Emily Boland
La MAMA in Association with Irina’s Dream Theatre
And MCNN (France) presents
Directed and Adapted by Irina Brook
Featuring Nicole Ansari, Winsome Brown, Joan Juliet Buck, Sadie Jemmett, Yibin Li
Ellen Stewart Theater
66 East 4th Street
Through October 6