Drowning in Theatre

I saw three plays this weekend.

That may not seem like much, but add that to my 40+ hour a week (emphasis on the plus) theatre job and rehearsals for my play, and it seems almost masochistic to voluntarily spend any more of my time inside a theatre–alas, I saw some really great theatre this weekend. Two of the three shows were a part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival currently happening in DC, although all three were about women. Yay, girl power!

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Saturday evening, I accompanied a friend to see Theatre J’s season opener, Queen’s Girl in the World. It is an autobiographical one-woman show written by Caleen Sinette Jennings, currently a professor at American University. An incredibly layered performance by Dawn Ursula depicts Jennings’ life as a black girl at the height of the Civil Rights movement in New York City. It has been a while since a show held my attention so singularly. I couldn’t look away from Ursula for even a moment. This is easily one of the best pieces of art I’ve seen presented onstage in a long time.

In post-show discussion with some friends, we pondered the significance of letting another actress perform the poignant story of your very rich, personal experience (most autobiographical shows I’ve seen are usually performed by the playwright herself). Whatever the reason, the strength of Jennings’ choice in Ursula was clear. Her seamless transition between characters–from Jennings’ Caribbean doctor father to her less-polished childhood girlfriend from down the block–drove an episodic plot with sudden climactic points that left a palpable weight on the audience. It was a healthy weight, a thoughtful weight, presenting the all-too relevant intricacies of blackness in an accessible way (note: the audience was comprised of mainly white, Jewish patrons).

I suppose accessibility is a theme in all three shows I saw this weekend, particularly where the complexities of the female experience are concerned. Animal, by Clare Lizzimore (commissioned by Studio Theatre, where I work), provides a haunting look into the troubled mind of Rachel (a fierce performance by Kate Eastwood Norris), in what is a refreshing redefinition of the “crazy lady” trope. God, I hate the c-word. The play holds a chilling secret, and it examines the expectations about family life that are often unfairly placed on women. I thought the script was quick, witty, and thought-provoking, inviting viewers to reflect on an intimate issue with a wider scope–the degrees of mental illness that affect women.

Finally, I was able to catch GALA Theatre’s last performance of Yerma right after my rehearsal for a play in their children’s series. I was ecstatic to learn that GALA would be opening its 40th anniversary season with one of my favorite Lorca plays. The design was simple, with corrugated metal walls and a stainless steel surgeon’s table emphasizing the barrenness of the plot. While I wasn’t entirely convinced by some of the actors chosen to tell this story, Madrid-based actress Mabel del Pozo made up for it. What most fascinated me about del Pozo’s performance was the way the text seemed to occupy her body, as if her movements and speech were in complete unison. She delivered everything with a meditated force–it was lovely to watch.

I look forward to more theatre saturation in the coming months. I am learning the importance of surrounding myself with work, whether good or bad, to inspire and empower my own path as a young theatre artist girl in da world.

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