Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review: A Future That's Female

By Kelly Kohlman

Great Again is a showcase of two female-penned one-act plays, commissioned by Project Y Theatre Company as part of their second annual Women in Theatre Festival and presented at A.R.T/New York Theatres. Chiori Miyagawa’s In The Line and Crystal Skillman’s The Test both illuminate, with stark presentational differences, some of the various challenges, impressions and impulses facing women and people of color today. The evening’s title, Great Again, a not-so-subtle reference to the rhetoric of our president, is perhaps a little on the nose for this collection of pieces, which explores America’s greatness, or lack thereof, with more nuance and nonjudgmental wisdom.
“In the sense that we’re all in this together, yes, we are together.”
In the Line, directed by Kristin Horton, is a sweetly subversive and dreamlike tumble through the lives of various people as they wait in lines. They search for lost objects, forge relationships with their neighbors, and discover new things about themselves as women, as Asian-Americans, as friends, as food critics, and so on. Audiences follow one woman, Leanne, straightforwardly played by Sol Marina Crespo, who seems to magically find herself appearing in these lines, searching in vain for a lost piece of herself, the details of which morph and evolve with each new experience and discovery she makes.
The exceptional ensemble cast, which includes Christina Liang, Sade Namei, Kristen Kittel, a standout Ashley Jones, Vichet Chum, Daniel Petzold, Patricia Cancio, Kaho Furuta, Norihiro Maruta, Madalyn Pedone, Monica Rounds, and Tomoko Tokugaki, exibits praiseworthy gel and energy. Despite the piece’s focus on lines, Horton seamlessly incorporates a great deal of movement, with some welcome dreamy choreography by Sonoko Kawakara, keeping audiences intrigued.
In The Line is a thoughtful lullaby of optimism, identity, and community. While avoiding any overt political or social statements, In The Line touches on a timely and prescient feeling surely shared by many in our culture in 2017. It is the undercurrent of anticipation, of being on the precipice of a great cultural change for the better, despite condescension and pushback from a privileged few. It is the feeling of finally valuing ourselves and our talents, getting to the front of the line, grabbing our closest girlfriends’ hands and saying “Here we go. We’re going in!”
“When you learn, it hurts.”
Second on the evening’s bill is The Test, directed by Jessi D. Hill.  Tensions run high in a high school English classroom when a desk is discovered to have been defiled with a giant swastika. The identity of the vandal is a mystery, but outraged students are quick to suspect a particular student named Milo, played by Eric Weigand with a heartbreaking familiarity.
At the head of the classroom, Ada, played by Mary E. Hodges, tries to get a handle on the controversy while trying to prepare her students for the most important test of their lives, all the while balancing personal and professional challenges. Ms. Hodges’s portrayal of Ada is intense, captivating, and inspiring. “They took their cues from their leader,” Ada warns her colleague Paige, played affably by Taylor Shurte. The notion of the grave responsibility of leadership, from within a high school English classroom or beyond, persists throughout the play, and it is one of the many burdens Ada carries.
Under Hill’s crisp and elegant direction, the play swiftly advances amidst Hallie Zieselman’s sweet and detailed classroom set, perfectly sharp costume design by Becky Bodurta, as well as lights and sound by Christina Watanabe and Mark Bruckner, respectively, that ground the performance in the reality of a 2017 high school.
After Ada’s final great attempt at getting through to her divided, scared, and hostile students, the outspoken and assertive Zarina, played by the vibrant Angel Moore, seems to cross a line, and perhaps learns a difficult lesson, in a thoroughly unexpected and heart-pounding conclusion. The Test is a play about division, fear, resentment, and picking sides, and what it takes in 2017 to overcome it all.