by Margret Echeverria
It wasn’t just because the air conditioning system was out in The Wild Project theater last night that Vermont, written and Directed by Rachel Carey, made me a little homesick; it was the authentically expressed conflict between ideals and practical reality that brought back my sixteen years in intentional community. Since the 50’s, when Madison Avenue was exploiting GI bills by convincing couples to start two in a box, add two babies two years apart followed maybe by a dog or a cat, there has been a desire to go back and reinvent living with extended family. What if we could choose our family, live together, protect one another, save the world?
It’s morning in 1972 when Vermont begins with a naked happy sweet-faced boy running into the kitchen. Free, white and in his 20’s, Paul (Rob Riordan) stretches his body toward the “passive solar heat” coming through drafty windows. Conservative audience members gasp a little. Hey, it’s fun to see a penis on stage! Paul does physical labor without being asked and is a safe companion for the female characters in the show. That is, until he misses the opportunity to learn from the feminine perspective and act on it.
The group is only four members until Mina and Dan (Sadithi De Zilva and Zachary Speigel) show up in a rocky marriage hoping that living with Dan’s old college friend, Ray (Cian Genaro), in promised communal utopia will save them.
De Zilva’s Mina fully engages us as she investigates the limits of her sexuality and her politics. Mina, as the daughter of two Indian immigrants, is the only minority in the group. She points out that she is in the company of privileged people choosing to live as though they are impoverished. She and Dan don’t want to “be our parents,” but are they betraying them? Dan knows he is in a mine field with Mina. Major triggers include his innate expectations that Mina continue in roles assigned to her gender: Cooking, cleaning, taking care of the guys. Speigel could have played this classic man/woman social disparity only for comedy, but we feel his terror when he confronts his paradigms and we like him enough to hope he wakes up.
Genaro gives us Ray, the red-pope-slipper-wearing (a brilliant touch) love-bombing commune leader who pretends to resist the title. His delusions of grandeur are coupled with a total misunderstanding of women-driven contributions across global cultures. And he cannot see a rather glaringly obvious fissure in the foundation of his experiment: Collective ownership of the property is not a priority.
I liked that the fog of Western social conditioning sneaks into this story organically. The over-arching toxic patriarchy feels unintentional on the part of these characters. Humans are slow to hear those who are being stepped on even when the disenfranchised have been carefully pointing it out for decades. Rachel Carey’s squeaky wheel is Natalie, Jessica Noboa, who pushes for a more fair and pleasurable way to make this commune more inclusive and ultimately successful. Noboa gives us the newly liberated woman of the ’70’s who smashed her bottle of Enjoli against the wall because she no longer needs a man to live well. Natalie’s endearing ferocity is the counterpart to Thea’s (Alexandra Sumakis) protests, which are softly introspective. Thea discovers her boundaries. In the middle of the night, Thea stands in her power and opens Dan’s eyes for a minute, but he does not stay awake.
On a technical note: Costume Designer, Yolanda Balana, misses her mark here dressing De Zilva’s hair in a plastic finger clip that did not exist in 1972 and her nails are manicured French noir, which would have nauseated Gloria Steinem and Grace Mirabella alike. Ahh details.
It has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In the ’70’s women took a detour to carve out a new way. It is good to be reminded of this heritage. Look out, patriarchy, we’re even stronger now.
VERMONT written and Directed by Rachel Carey
Lighting design, Jeff McCrum; Stage manager, Lauren Arneson; Costume Design, Yolanda Balana.
VERMONT runs July 18 – 30. Performances are at 8pm daily with additional performances July 23, 29 & 30 at 3pm. Please note: there are no performances on July 19 or 26. Running time is 80 minutes. The Wild Project is located at 195 E. 3rd Street between Aves A & B. Tickets are $25 at www.thirdwing.info.