By Tulis McCall
Well she had me almost all the way through, did. Ms. Alice Birch, Her play Revolt. She said. Revolt again. Is a hot mess of slivers of relationships that rumble through our visual field like ball bearings in a blazing skillet. This play is all about communication – or rather the lack of it. The characters in this play could have little bubbles above their heads they are thinking, so clearly are they not saying it. And not saying it using a LOT of words.
In the script notes Ms. Birch states: Most importantly this play should not be well behaved. This cast Daniel Abeles, Molly Bernard, Eboni Booth and Jennifer Ikeda follows these instructions and is guided very well indeed by Lileana Blain-Cruz’s direction. There is no fan fare here. Few gimmicks and no froo-froo. It is all about the words, how they are used and misused, what they evoke, what they mean and how often we abuse them.
This is also a play that focuses on women. In the first scene Revolutionize the Language: Invert It a man – Daniel Abeles – (for the most part the characters are nameless) who waxes eloquent on his desire to make love to his woman, the excellent Molly Bernard, until she turns the table by suggesting that “to” should be “with” and once the tables are turned it is an entirely new ballgame. In Revolutionize The World (Do Not Marry) Jennifer Ikeda dissects a marriage proposal from Abeles until there is nothing left except a few pathetic measly molecules scattered across the floor. In Revolutionize The Work (Engage With It) Bernard as a corporate exec and Eboni Booth as an employee who knows what she wants so everything BUT engage.
As the evening progresses the scenes the characters’ become more and more untethered. A woman lies down in a grocery store and lifts her dress. When asked about it she replies, “Where my body stops and the air around it starts has felt a little like this long continuous line of a battleground for about my whole life, I think.” Ah yes – that one I know.
With Revolutionize the World (Don’t Reproduce) a daughter brings her own child home to a mother who refuses to admit she ever had children. In the penultimate scene the line between the actor and character becomes vague and each person has a meltdown all their own. Universes are colliding and there is no going back to anything that resembles sanity.
In the final, cruel scene, Ms. Birch chucks us all off the apple cart. The world has come to a crashing halt. There is an enormous bang and some very bright lights that left one audience member gasping for breath. When the stage is revealed we see that the world has failed. Every scene in this play has lead to this moment. The three women are survivors and know their job is to take over every scrap of communication and power on which they can lay their bloody hands. What men are left will have to go. This is a new guerrilla war, and it is looking us in the face.
This chosen conclusion left me pretty much locked in the basement. It is a matter of preference, I suppose. I believe most audiences want to go into those dark scary places. It’s where the truth is born and nourished before it creeps out into the sunlight. It’s your grandmother’s basement, filled with dust and mystery. We want to go down there, but we also want to be certain the door at the top of the stairs is left open just a crack. If it is open, then we can risk the journey. Ms. Birch invited us into her loopy extraordinary basement and we went willingly. She is a superb guide. In the end, however, she let go of our hand and we discovered that the door at the top of the stairs was locked. Hope was removed from the playing field. It felt like a body tackle. Those things cause concussions, you know. Owee.
Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.
By Alice Birch; directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
WITH: Daniel Abeles, Molly Bernard, Eboni Booth and Jennifer Ikeda.
Sets by Adam Rigg; costumes by Kaye Voyce; lighting by Yi Zhao; sound by Palmer Hefferan; projections by Hannah Wasileski; props by George Hoffman and Greg Kozatek; fight choreography by J. David Brimmer; production stage manager, Lisa McGinn; assistant director, Aneesha Kudtarkar; technical director, Becca Key; assistant producer/company manager, Sizo Kunene. Presented by Soho Rep., Sarah Benson, artistic director; Heather Arnson, business manager; Cynthia Flowers, executive director; in association with John Adrian Selzer. Through May 15 at Soho Rep., 46 Walker Street; 866-811-4111, sohorep.org. Running time: 1 hour 5 minutes.