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ms. estrada

Exuberant and dynamic hip hop musical of Aristophanes’ bawdy comedy “Lysistrata” puts the Me Too Movement front and center in this updated college romp.

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Malena Pennycook (left) as Liz Estrada confronts Jonathon Ryan as Brian in the Womyn’s Studies class of Ms. Spencer (Jenna Krasowski) in a scene from “ms. estrada” featuring The Bats at The Flea (Photo credit: Hunter Canning)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

In the era of the Me Too Movement and open discussion of sexual harassment on the job and the sex culture on college campuses, ms. estrada, the wold premiere hip hop musical from the Q Brothers Collective could not be more timely. Based on a literal translation of Aristophanes’ bawdy Lysistrata, ms. estrada is equally ribald as it transfers the action to Acropolis University all in rhyme. As the curtain speech warns us: “It’s a hip hop play so it moves fast you see/Some characters use slang and speak in AAVE.” Ms. Estrada joins the ranks of fast-paced college musicals and its use of contemporary lingo may keep some older theatergoers on their toes. Michelle Tattenbaum’s production with the Flea’s resident company The Bats has all the exuberance and dynamism of a newly minted college show.

The Q Brothers Collective (made up of GQ, JQ, Jackson Doran and Postell Pringle) is best known in New York for their hip hop variations on Shakespeare: Othello: The Remix in 2016 and The Bomb-itty of Errors in 2000. As the entire show is in rhyme and rhythm, there are very few discrete songs, but the couplets come so fast that it is at times difficult to make out the clever lyrics. The upside of the new show has all the hijinks of a teen musical but with the unsophistication of a college parody (the downside). It is the latest musical version of Aristophanes’ most famous comedy, but unlike the 2011 Lysistrata Jones, ms. estrada has eliminated all of the politics for an exploration into the social aspects instead.

Monique St. Cyr as the Yoga Instructor with the men of Tappa Kegga Alpha in a scene from “ms. estrada” featuring The Bats at The Flea (Photo credit: Hunter Canning)

Motivated by her Womyn’s Study Course at Acropolis U led by famed feminist Ms. Spencer, serious student Liz Estrada decides to rally her besties to take a stand against the Greek Games which are preoccupying the men on campus when she sees how her roommates are being treated by their boyfriends. She demands a boycott on sex until the men drop the games and the protest becomes campus wide causing much chaos and disruption with the takeover of the administration building.

The counter demonstration is led by the men of Tappa Kegga Alpha and its founder Harry Stefani who is also Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the university and who threatens to cut off funding. Things don’t go too well for Liz and her band until Dean Jaffe is convinced to put on womyn’s clothing and see what it is like to be the opposite sex for 24 hours. Too soon he discovers discrimination and harassment. All of the events on campus are reported on by the Sparta Seven New Team, Steve Cineseus and Bonnie Bicoccia, including the happy ending for the newly enlightened.

Madeline Mahoney, Malena Pennycook, Pearl Shin and Caturah Brown in the dormitory scene from “ms. estrada” featuring The Bats at The Flea (Photo credit: Hunter Canning)

Malena Pennycook makes a stalwart, if humorless heroine as Elizabeth “Liz” Estrada. As the sometime feminist, Jonathon Ryan as Brian, Student Body Representative to the Dean of Students, is more a leading man type as he seems to switch sides in the course of the show. Jenna Krasowski’s Ms. Spencer is an icon much in the way that Tina Fey’s Ms. Norbury was in the film of Mean Girls.

As the villain of the piece, Michael Ortiz makes the arrogant and high-handed Harry Stefani a CEO worthy of hissing. Ben Schrager is nicely put-upon as conservative Dean Jaffe who is much stuck on himself, while Karsten Otto, as Max, head of Tappa Kegga Alpha, has all the Neanderthal qualities that give frat houses a bad name. Madeline Mahoney, Pearl Shin and Caturah Brown are amusing as Liz’s wide-eyed roommates who see the light, and Jack Horton Gilbert, David A. Wallace and Zac Porter give able support as Max’s chauvinistic buddies. Monique St. Cyr has a scene-stealing number as Miss Tiffcock, the super hot yoga instructor driving the men wild in Rokafella’s witty choreography using blue balls.

Malena Pennycook as Liz Estrada (center) leads the women of Acropolis University in the sex boycott in a scene from “ms. estrada” featuring The Bats at The Flea (Photo credit: Hunter Canning)

While John McDermott’s unit set design is made up of three doors and two archways, much in the manner of Greek amphitheaters, various prop pieces are hidden in the walls to change the look of the various locales. The rather bland brick and white pillar design is offset by Oona Curley’s colorful lighting and Robin I. Shane’s eclectic costumes for the large cast.  Rokafella’s animated choreography has the cast on their feet much of the time. The sound design by David Ferdinand is clarity itself though the speed of the delivery makes many rhymes disappear before the audience can take them in. Postell Pringle (a member of the Q Brothers Collective) is credited with the music direction of the many separate elements of the show.

As performed by The Bats, Ms. Estrada is a high-spirited, merry and lively tale of the college crowd with all the latest slang to date in gender studies, sports and contemporary life. Both engrossing and exhausting, Michelle Tattenbaum’s production for The Flea Theater couldn’t be better. The question is whether audience members are liberated enough to go with the flow. A fun evening but not for all.

Ms. Estrada (through April 22, 2018)

The Flea Theater

The Sam, 20 Thomas Street, Tribeca, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-226-0051 or visit http://www.theflea.org

Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission

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Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (485 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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