By Holli harms
It’s Vienna, Austria 1908 and Mathilde Schönberg (Amy Staats), wife of prestigious and groundbreaking artist and composer Arnold Schönberg (Marcel Massaro), has acquired an affair with one of Arnold’s peers, the younger sexier artist Richard Gerstl (Nikomeh Anderson).
gerstl took the easy way out is underground theater at its best with a chorus of five who represent the voice of the playwright, Lydia Blaisdell, as well as move us along in this high octane, hilarious, sexually over the top, take on the existence of women in men’s lives. This is A Doll’s House turned on its head and thrown out to us like Pollack on speed. A woman’s sexual desire, for her to have a need for pleasure equal to a man, was unheard of in the Nineteenth Century. Women were nothing but vessels of life and nurture, meant to give birth, take care of the home, of the children, and the husband. They were the person behind the scenes. They had no voice or place at the front standing by the husband and his children unless they were there to look pretty and serve others.
Blaisdell has taken this real life story of infidelity and art and the artists, the men, who create it to dazzle us with the reality of women’s existence in all of this art and creation, her role as the muse and the lover, the wife and the mother and created a story that is unfortunately still relevant today. Never is Woman the artist, is she the one that holds the reins while others move the carriage with their sweat and grit. Never does she stand fully in a mirror and observe herself. She is always the observer standing in the background.
The play, a metatheatre happening, is filled with movement, with dance and music, and uproarious asides that remind us the 21st century is tired of this labeling of gender. The chorus will throw out thoughts and ideas and even suggestions as when one of the chorus members throws out the name Judith Butler as someone for us to write a report on. Judith Butler coined the term “gender performativity” which is, “…the theory that gender and gender roles are elaborate social performances that one puts on in day-to-day life…” And indeed, Mathilde is trying to perform well her societal part but she really never wanted to be a mother to her children let alone her boring childish husband Arnold. In the end, the affair with Gerstl, Mathilde realizes it is just another way for her to stand in the background of the man and fulfill his desires. She is going to break out of these invisible chains and stand in the spotlight but not without the help from the chorus breaking the fourth wall, engaging us in their own gender thoughts and passions, and taking the time to pass out pie. Pie on plates with forks and napkins.
Symbolic of that change Mathilde will reconstruct the set, made of various sized ladders, into her own art installation, dragging the ladders, lifting the set pieces, hiking up her skirt and getting sweaty.
The performers are all wonderful. They are a combination of queer, non-binary, and trans communities coming together to create this spectacular evening as we romp in the world of art and sexual desires and individual needs. Amy Staats as Mathilde eats up the stage with her energy and knee slapping comedic turns that all emanate from the truth of the character and women everywhere. Nikomeh Anderson and Marcel Massaro are perfect as the egotistical over the top men who need Mathilde to allow them their art.
gerstl took the easy way out written by Lydia Blaisdell, directed by Ashley Olive Teague, and developed and produced with Notch Theatre Company is part of New Ohio’s Ice Factory 2023 Celebrating 30 years as theater.
The cast includes Amy Staats, Marcel Mascaro, Nikomeh Anderson, Anita Castillo-Halvorssen, Kathleen Mary Carthy, Lou Griesman, Nyaira Jones and Eli Wassertzug.
The production team includes Carin Jennie Estey (Associate Producer, Production Manager & Intimacy Direction), Bruno-Pierre Houle (Scenic), Susanne Houstle (Costumes), William DeJianne (Lights), Jenny Kennedy (Stage Manager), Stewart Harrison (Assistant Director), Erin Gruodis-Gimbel (Production & Costume Assistant), Lacey Erb (Projection Design Consultant) and Katie Kohler (Scenic Painter). [Untitled Composition] music by Jacob Graham, and lyrics by Lydia Blaisdell and Jacob Graham.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Notch Theatre Company creates community-responsive theater to amplify local stories and support grassroots social activism efforts on a national scale.
New Ohio, Address: 154 Christopher St #1E, New York, NY 10014 Phone: (212) 675-6446