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Great Again

A curtain raiser taking place on lines and a play about a frazzled high school teacher on this bill: they’re written by women and reflect the 2016 election.

Sade Namei, Sol Marina Crespo and Christina Liang in a  scene from Chiori Miyagawa’s “In the Line” (Photo credit: Jimmy Ryan)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

Great Again is a program of two intriguing and engrossing works by women playwrights that subtly reflect the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They were commissioned by the Project Y Theatre Company for their second annual Women in Theatre Festival.

Chiori Miyagawa’s In the Line is a 45-minute series of thoughtful vignettes that take place on various lines and at cafes and restaurants.  Ms. Miyagawa’s dialogue is often poignant and wry, and it all builds to a wistful conclusion.

They’re linked by the recurring character of the emotional Leanne, whose parents died during 9/11. She is wonderfully played by the captivating Sol Marina Crespo with bewitching intelligence and sensitivity.  We follow her on lines: to vote, to buy a Nintendo game, and to get into a trendy restaurant where she strikes up a friendship with the loquacious Ertha, marvelously performed by Ashley Jones.

Midori Francis, Sade Namei, Kristen Kittel, Ashley Jones, Vichet Chum, Daniel Petzold, Madalyn Pedone, Monica Rounds, Tomoko Tokugaki, Norihiro Maruta, Kaho Furuta, and Patricia Cancio make up the talented ensemble of actors and dancers. They perfectly enact the gallery of characters who populate the different locales.

Kristin Horton’s well-calibrated direction results in affective performances from the cast and yields visually precise physical staging on the bare space.  This stagecraft is complemented by Sonoko Kawahara’s accomplished choreography with its arresting tableaus, freezes and glorious movement, especially a slow motion sequence at a rock club.

In the Line is a vibrant and theatrically realized mediation on contemporary life, with all of its randomness and surprising degrees of separation.

Mary E. Hodges and Angel Moore in a scene from Crystal Skillman’s “Test” (Photo credit: Jimmy Ryan)

The mystery of who carved a swastika on a desk in the classroom of a struggling high school is the spur of Crystal Skillman’s engrossing The Test.

Ms. Skillman’s 70-minute play is a fine blend of well-delineated characters, flavorful dialogue and provocative situations.  It’s somewhat marred by a pedantic lecture near the end and an overly ambiguous conclusion.

Ada is a 40ish, African-American English teacher grappling with personal and professional problems. Her promising literary career has stalled. Her mother has Alzheimer’s and has recently been institutionalized. She’s sad about a departing teacher that she’s been close with.

“Life is disturbing. Fiction is survival,” she declares.  Lord of The Flies is the book that her class is currently reading.

The overbearing, unseen female principal (comically heard during phone calls) is pressuring her to improve her class’ grades and to find the culprit of the incendiary incident.

The short scenes are punctuated by the harsh tones of the school bell and there are sounds of students that appropriately give a sense of place.   Comic relief is provided by a reappearing silent custodian who paints over the offensive symbol.

It’s crisply staged with a measured pace, a documentarian style and dashes of suspense by director Jessi D. Hill.  The acting is exceptional.

Mary E. Hodges in a scene from Crystal Skillman’s “Test” (Photo credit: Jimmy Ryan)

Mary E. Hodges’ majestic performance as Ada renders this central character with tremendous depth.  Ms. Hodges is forceful, sympathetic and magnetic.  With her animated features, wide eyes and charismatic presence she makes a great impact.

As the sunny history teacher and aspiring playwright Paige, the charming Taylor Shurte is delightful.  Ms. Shurte’s ebullience, vibrant facial expressions and comic timing recall the young Joan Cusack.  Shurte and Hodges have a palpable chemistry that makes their character’s deep friendship totally believable.

Plausibly and engagingly portraying two of Ada’s students are Angel Moore and Eric Wiegand.  The intense and playful Ms. Moore is girlishly feisty as the outspoken Zarina.  Mr. Moore offers an inspired portrait of a volatile adolescent whose family are Trump supporters.  Moore also skillfully delivers a funny speech that insightfully analyzes the socio-economic aspects of the supermarket C-Town.

The Test is a worthy addition to the genre of noble teachers aiding uneasy students with clever contemporary twists.

An assemblage of blackboards, desks and doorways are the elements of Hallie Zieselman’s artful scenic design for The Test.

Lighting designer Christina Watanabe and sound designer Mark Bruckner contribute jolting and stylized effects to both plays. Becky Bodurtha’s costume design is colorfully authentic for each work.

“…Allowing new and emerging voices to be part of the theatrical conversation” is the mission of the Project Y Theatre Company that was founded in in Washington, D.C. in 1999.

The goal of their three week Women in Theatre Festival is “a direct response to gender disparity in theatre leadership, casting, and production, the objective of WIT is to broaden the opportunities for women artists, engage with an audience who seek an indie theatre experience, and add to the canon of women playwrights writing roles for women actors.”

Great Again quite successfully fulfills these commendable aspirations.

Great Again (through June 24, 2017)

Project Y Theatre Company’s 2nd Annual Women in Theatre Festival

The Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at the A.R.T./New York Theatres

502 West 53rd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.projectytheatre.org

Running time: two hours and ten minutes with one intermission

Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (412 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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