By Holli Harms

Maiden Voyage by Cayenne Douglass, now playing at The Flea’s downstairs space, The Siggy, is Douglass’s imagined tale of the first all-female-led patrol aboard a nuclear submarine at sea for 90 days attempting to discover what happens when women are allowed to command the show. Does gender make a difference in thinking and action? What are the expectations of the military and the expectations of themselves? Are they navy first, women second, and does gender even matter?

While the concept is an engaging one and I was very excited to see how it would play out, the script and direction often limit the women to male stereotypes. Women behave like men, their walks and stances exhibiting masculinity, trying to be something that they are not. I grew up an Army brat and I don’t remember any of the female soldiers walking with the swagger of their male counterparts, punching as a form of communication, or man-spreading when they sat.

Douglass writes of the life of a submariner, the day-to-day expectations of their work, the struggles against boredom, and for some even dealing with claustrophobia. Throughout the play, we get to become privy to some of the personal fears and ambitions of the crew. We’re exposed to the beauty of a vessel so deep in our oceans that the majestic vocals of whales can surround you and vibrate on the hull as you lie in your cot. There are some wonderful scenes of how the water, the tons and tons of water surrounding the vessel, can shift with currents and throw them from one side of the sub to the other.

130 people patrolling underwater for 90 days stuck in a long metal tube can lead to stir-crazy monotony. There are fun scenes of life onboard, of the games, talent shows, and anything to break the monotony ideas they come up with to combat that boredom, as well as having to deal with the growing rumbling of stomachs as the food rations start to diminish and the days tick by. All of this worked in exposing us to life on board, especially some of the later scenes of the play where the change of scenes flowed together without having to pause for the lights down scene change moments.

For the navy, the captain of the vessel, and all women sailors, this voyage was looked upon as a proving ground for the future. Not only the captain’s (commandingly played by Tricia Mancuso Parks) reputation but every slight she ever suffered would be redeemed by a successful completion of this mission. The captain is career military, and ambitious to a fever level willing to take many risks to accomplish a successful mission, at any cost. She will not take NO for an answer, for anything, and will sacrifice all to prove her strength as a leader, and the strength of her submariners. She will even put the lives of her sailors in jeopardy for her desired outcome. Both the ship and the captain unravel under the pressure and her subordinates must react to save all of their lives.

The cast is terrific and works well together, and the stage is cleverly set incorporating the building columns that are a fixed part of The Siggy stage, utilizing projections and music, and those haunting whale vocals. The play picks up beautifully in the last hour both visually and thematically.  Moving with emotions and stories and desperation to save themselves and their vessel. The idea is compelling as hell and the “second act” is commanding but with that said and the slow first act I have to say it hasn’t quite found its sea legs… Yet. It will and when it does I will be there in the front row.

Maiden Voyage by playwright Cayenne Douglass, directed by Alex Keegan

With: Arianne Banda, Georgia Kate CohenBrenda CrawleyShimali De Silva, Rachel GriesingerNatasha Hakata, Kait Hickey, and Tricia Mancuso Parks.

Creative Team: Set Design by Frank Oliva, Lighting Design by John Salutz, Projection Design by Taylor Edelle Stuart, Sound Design by Elliot Yokum, and Costume Design by Saawan Tiwari Intimacy Director Daniella Caggiano, Stage Manager Callie Stribling, Assistant Stage Manager Cat Gillespe,

Maiden Voyage. Through March 17 at the Flea Theater (20 Thomas Street, between Broadway and Church Streets). Running time is approximately 2 hours 20 minutes, plus a ten-minute intermission.