Unlike Kate Tarker’s Thunderbodies produced at the Soho Rep in 2018, her new play Montag is not a satiric sci-fi parody. Instead it is a play about female empowerment told as a domestic thriller. Mainly a two character play, Montag is intensely realistic until some surrealistic moments near the end like a visit by Death carrying a scythe. Dustin Wills’ production is unnerving and fierce, intensified by the dim lighting by Masha Tsimring which makes the audience peer into the darkness on Lisa Laratta’s claustrophobic set.
Set in a small German town near an American army base, Faith and Novella are best friends who have been sharing Novella’s basement apartment since the break-up of Faith’s marriage four months before. Faith, an American, is a Lead System Analyst working on the nearby U.S. Army base, while Novella is a Turkish immigrant who had become a German citizen. One of Faith’s team, Clifford Andrews has gone missing the previous Monday and has not returned to work for an entire week. For some reason, the women fear for their lives and have barricaded themselves in Novella’s apartment, placing weapons at hand, and have been staying up all week practicing combat drills. Every noise scares them as they wait for what is to come. Their children Danny and Mikey are being taken care of by David, Faith’s babysitter.
The women play all kinds of games both to keep up their skills and to kill the time. Aside from the surprise by Death, their friend Greg, an opera singer, puts in an appearance in which he only sings. While Nadine Malouf as Novella and Ariana Venturi as Faith are passionate and fierce, this is not a play for everyone. Very little back story is given and many of the clues conflict with each other. We never find out why Clifford Andrews would want to kill them or why they have no other recourse but to barricade themselves in a basement apartment. Has David been taking care of their sons the entire previous seven days? Has Faith been working from home and has no one noticed that she has not been to work?
The physical production is all of a piece. Laratta’s set makes only one shabby room visible, a small space with a table and speakers for music. The lighting by Tsimring is dark as the women do not want any light to be seen through the boarded-up windows. They constantly change Montana Levi Blanco’s costumes as a way of keeping busy. The sound design by Sinan Refik Zafar includes not only threatening noises but various kinds of music that they play to distract themselves. The original opera aria by Daniel Schlosberg and beautifully sung by Dane Suarez is a remarkable art song, but we never know why he appears unless the women are beginning to hallucinate after seven days of sleep deprivation. This may be the explanation for the visit by Death who terrorizes them briefly. Considering how little happens, the feeling of waiting is magnified for the audience in the frenetic nature of Faith and Novella’s actions.
While director Dustin Wills has given Montag a superb production, the meaning and message of Kate Tarker’s play remains obscure. Demonstrating female empowerment alone is not enough if the details remain murky and confusing. If the play has any geopolitical message about American-German-Turkish relations, it is entirely lost in the proceedings. The fact that both women are now single parents is not given much significance in the play. One gets the feeling that much of the play has a private meaning for the author who grew up in Germany on the outskirts of a U.S. military community. For those who do not know German, “Montag” is the word for Monday, the day when Clifford Andrews went missing and the women barricaded themselves in the apartment.
Montag (extended through November 20, 2022)
Soho Rep, 46 Walker Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 646-586-8982 or visit http://www.sohorep.org
Running time: 85 minutes without an intermission