By Tulis McCall
What a confusing production. From start to finish.
This is the story of a self defense class that is organized after a classmate was attacked. I think. We never find out what exactly happened. Only that she is in the hospital and everyone is on edge. Or supposed to be.
The production is directed by three people: Liliana Padilla, Rachel Chavkin and Steph Paul. Their separate contributions are never made clear. What was made clear in the program was that each director brought a different designer to the team and that the “Leadership” was shared. This may have contributed to the lack of cohesiveness during most of the performance. It feels like the artistic team was more interested in making a statement about sharing leadership rather than creating a story.
The cast gives 100% and the writer could not have asked for a more committed group of performers. But even the highest of commitments has a hard time when the plot is floating around like a lost dandelion puff. The story zigs and zags and never lands. The first time my attention was locked in was when Eggo (Jayson Lee) talked about what it was like to be a man in this situation. How he is very conscious of how he interacts with woman and is clueless as to what their reactions will be. There is a sort tucked in there that we are allowed to witness. The same happened later in the play when Lee and Andy (Sebastian Delascasas) compare notes while working out. Again there is some meat on those bones of conversation.
The women’s exchanges are, for the most part, reminiscent of group therapy interspersed with stories of sexual encounters (most are not happy making). There are a few actual excursuses about defending yourself, but for the most part the story telling feels as if it was written to amorphous and obscure. Hard to latch on to.
And, I understand that life is like that so so often. My experience with plays and stories is that we need hand holding, even if it is just to help us get our bearings. That didn’t happen here. Not even at the play’s end. Instead of completing, the actors tore into a whirling, jiving musical beat (reminiscent of a Charles Mee creation) complete with balloons falling from the rafters, a birthday cake, and a child to hold it.
At least the play was consistent. Obscure from beginning to end. Too bad.
How to Defend Yourself was written by Liliana Padilla (they/them) and is directed by Padilla, Rachel Chavkin (she/her) and Steph Paul (she/her). The cast of How to Defend Yourself includes Amaya Braganza (she/they), Sebastian Delascasas (he/him), Jayson Lee (he/him), Ariana Mahallati (she/her), Teagan Meredith (she/her), Gabriela Ortega (she/her), Sarah Marie Rodriguez (she/her) and Talia Ryder (she/they).
Scenic Design You-Shin Chen, Costume Design Izumi Inaba. Lighting Design Stacey Derosier, Sound Design Mikhail Fiksel, Movement Director Steph Paul, Casting Erica Hart, Nicholas Petrovich, Cindy Tolan, Fight Director Rocío Mendez, Voice Director Dawn-Elin Fraser
Intimacy Coordinator Ann James
Thought April 2 at New York Theatre Workshop, TICKETS