Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: A Tree Is The Way Out Of The Tender Trap

By Ed Malin

The Woman Who Was Me is a solo show written by Peter Grandbois (adapted from his novel), performed by Liz Stanton, directed by Jeremy Williams.  After several runs at United Solo Festival, the show is now being presented by Convergences Theatre Collective at TheaterLab.
Lanie is a “woman of a certain age”, an author, wife and mother of a seven-year old son named Noah.  The story opens with Lanie waking up, standing up in bed, wearing all white amid the whiteness of TheaterLab.  She goes about her life the way she has accepted she must.  Her husband’s idea of kissing her is giving her a peck on the cheek.  What a surprise when a passing stranger gives Lanie a passionate kiss in her garden.  Suddenly, Lanie is fully conscious of her desires, and is ready to use her body to fulfill them.  Nina Simone’s song "Wild Is The Wind" plays in the background as Lanie creates a new identity for herself: Elizabeth.  Elizabeth hears the thudding noise of her ceiling fan and is moved to go to salsa clubs, where she is taught by and dominated by strange men.  Whatever she wants, she pursues.  However, she still has writer’s block, for, thinking of her grandmother and the girdle she felt pressured to wear, Lanie is acutely conscious of how society restrains us from living the way we want to live.
photo by Lloyd Mulvey
As sometimes happens in a play centered on the imagination, there are several mythological references.  First, after Lanie views the film "Clash of the Titans" with her son, we are reminded that (according to Ovid in his Metamorphoses), Medusa was a beautiful woman, desired of many men, when the god Neptune raped her in the temple of Athena.  Athena then punished Medusa by turning her into a dangerous, snake-haired monster.  Second, the river nymph Daphne was pursued by the god Apollo as a result of her beauty.  She called out to her father, and was turned into a laurel tree.  The set (designed by WT McRae) is dominated by a tree-like clothes drying rack.  Lanie/Elizabeth fears getting stuck in any normal pattern of life, and shows us her tree-enforced power by changing from her matronly white outfit into tree bark-patterned tights (thanks to Natalie Loveland’s costume design, this metamorphosis was surprising and quite effective).  She is full of erotic energy, like water dripping in a cave, but she also has the very real need to take care of her young son.
Her husband initially ignores Lanie’s increased passion.  Lanie responds by telling us of rough sex with more strangers.  She tries to find satisfaction with her husband, who refuses her, and then is heard muttering in bed “I wish I were alone”.  Finally, after Lanie removes her wedding ring and leaves it on her husband’s pillow, she is confronted by that most spineless remark: “You’re not the person I married.”  Lanie tells us that she is not the same person she was five minutes ago, let alone whoever she thought she needed to be because of marriage, a contract, “something that creeps between two people” and stops them from being who they are.   Lanie tells us that perhaps the kiss was a dream, but her son and her societal role are real.   The audience must decide if this is a story of fulfillment (after all, polyamory and other kinds of sex-positivity are more acceptable nowadays) or unfulfilled longing or some mixture of the two. Kate Jaworski’s lighting helps show the dance between complete empowerment and loneliness which Elizabeth Stanton bravely undertakes.
Following the hour-long Act One, we are treated to the forty-minute talkback which is Act Two.  The play motivated a lot of people to speak up about empowering themselves.  Women’s voices will be heard, most prominently through the hundreds and thousands of women who are now seeking public office.  If the current administration does not care what women want, we can clearly see how the sisters of America (and France too, as reported) will be doing it for themselves.   Many of the creative people behind this production were in the same graduate program, and very happy to tell us that they share a common theatrical vocabulary: from Grotowski movement training to Roy Hart vocal technique.   Jeremy Williams, Artistic Director of Convergences Theatre Collective, has worked closely with Liz Stanton to bring out the mundane and “woke” aspects of her character; the trapped whimper and the primal roar.  The results are fascinating.