Thursday, June 14, 2012

THEATER: We Play for the Gods

At the heart of Women's Project Theater's We Play for the Gods is the sense that there are untold riches at the fingertips of the fourteen playwrights, directors, and producers -- all women -- and that we ought to let them out. Is it any surprise then, that this collaborative, eighteen-months-in-the-works production begins in a different sort of laboratory -- a scientific research center -- and with a literal genie of sorts, the blue-clad Provocatrix (Alexandra Henrikson), born in a mixture of test-tube tears? This energetic, chaotic creature of pure potential is soon put into the somewhat metaphoric hands of Simi (Amber Gray) -- lets call her a tireless director, who has lost her boyfriend over one too many empty-handed late nights -- who doesn't know what to make of her discovery. Her boss, the business-savvy Lisa (Erika Rolfsrud), wants to quickly produce this bold new thing, striking while the grant-money's hot, but it's the new temp, Susan (Irene Sofia Lucio), a literal poet -- MFA and everything -- who winds up the voice of reason, torn between the need to earn a living and her new muse's brash insistence that she drop everything and write.

This chaotic, comedic, and self-reflective plot is a good choice, given how many hands are in the pot, though the show so quickly works itself into a lather that directors Jessi D. Hill, Sarah Rasmussen, Mia Rovegno, and Nicole A. Watson end up repeating themselves. After all, there are only so many levels and secret doors to Jennifer Moeller's office-room set, only so many panicked breakdowns or dreams from the characters -- or terrific straight-woman responses from the humble secretary, Marla (Annie Golden). The show gets a little scream-y, and perhaps too overtly mythological in the monologues of its God, and the playwrights -- Charity Ballard, Alexandra Collier, Andrea Kuchlewska, Dominique Morisseau, Kristen Palmer, Melisa Tien, and Stefanie Zadravec -- end up backing down from their climax in a somewhat cryptic blackout/denouement. It all looks beautiful, mind you, but the final moment's flurry of post-it-notes doesn't have quite the same impact after all the coup de theatre that's preceded it. (I couldn't help but be reminded, too, of another nervy, comic office-place romp, Assistance, which ran earlier this year.)

But is it such a bad thing if We Play for the Gods gets a bit carried away, overly amused with its muse? This isn't a character-driven play, after all: it's a broad statement, a seventy-minute balls-to-the-wall work not of reckless abandon but of deliberate embrace, a study, then, of the effects of "emotional tears" and what the untapped chemical signals might do, if ever truly given the chance. It's also a marvelous showcase of neuroses for the actresses, particularly Lucio, who spends most of the play pulling the most pitiable faces as her possessed body wreaks havoc on the room. And if the play's a bit of a hodgepodge of floods, gales, and other disasters, then it's also proof that these tough women can weather anything: as the play somewhat hopefully (or wryly) concludes, who needs job security when you've got each other?

No comments: