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Scissoring

A lesbian Catholic high school teacher’s secrecy takes a toll on her relationship in this highly theatrical play that combines comedy, drama and fantasy. 

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Ashley Marie Ortiz as Josie and Vanessa R. Butler as Abigail in a scene from “Scissoring” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

“Morality is sacred around here,” says Elaine Dufoe the African-American principal of St. Elizabeth Rose Catholic High School for Girls in New Orleans. It’s in the Marigny section of the city that was once a haven for artists and the LGBT community but has since become gentrified post Hurricane Katrina.

The widowed and middle-aged Elaine is interviewing New Orleans native, Tulane-educated and lapsed Catholic but still attached to the faith, Abigail Bauer. She has applied for a position as an American history teacher. She’s in her early 30’s and is also pondering the possibility of attending Stanford University’s PhD program.

Impressed by Abigail, Elaine offers her the job but there’s a problem. Abigail is a lesbian who has been in a five-year relationship with Josie Hernandez, a fiery artist from New York City. To comply with the school’s morals clause their involvement must remain secret and this takes a toll on their relationship.

That is the premise of playwright Christina Quintana’s highly theatrical Scissoring, where comedy, drama and fantasy converge. The dialogue is witty, the characters are richly rendered and the plot is wildly unpredictable.

Kim Brockington as Elaine and Vanessa R. Butler as Abigail in a scene from Scissoring” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

In the African-American Abigail, Ms. Quintana creates a complex protagonist who is sympathetic, exasperating and engaging. She is fascinated by the journalist Lorena Hickok who had a storied closeness with Eleanor Roosevelt and they appear in the play as figments of Abigail’s imagination as does former Pope Benedict. These fanciful interludes are skillfully woven into the central narrative that focuses on the conflicts of being gay in the contemporary United States with the actions taking place during the school year of 2017 – 2018.

This all plays out on scenic designer Raul Abrego’s inventively striking set that has an artful configuration of weathered windows, shutters and painted backdrops framing the stage and wooden furnishings and a couch on the stage. The various locations are indicated with swiftness and clarity while effectively evoking the sense of being in New Orleans.

Director Estefanía Fadul’s energetic staging realizes the play’s humor and seriousness as it smoothly flows. The performances are uniformly as bubbly as the presentation.

Vanessa R. Butler’s Abigail is a fierce portrait of passion versus pragmatism as she experiences the clash of being true to oneself while navigating societal pressures. The athletic and intense Ms. Butler is commanding as she vividly conveys the character’s angst, strength and fragility.

Marie Louise Guinier as Lorena Hickok and Elise Santora as Eleanor Roosevelt in a scene from “Scissoring” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

The blonde, beaming and animated Ally Carey’s characterization as Celia Laraoque, a younger married teacher who becomes Abigail’s confidante is sensational. Without throwing the play off balance Ms. Carey’s delightful Midwestern effusiveness elevates this typical best friend role into a tour de force of comic stage acting with emotional range. A grand highlight of her hilarious yet moving performance is her reaction to the principal miscalling her and later stating, “I’m actually thinking about the fact I’ve been working for years and the principal doesn’t even know my name…I’m surprised that she doesn’t refer to me as ‘Mark’s wife’ or ‘Abigail’s friend.’ ” Carey is shattering as her character reexamines her life choices with dramatic results.

The alluring Ashley Marie Ortiz is wiry, intense and passionate as Josie. With the bearing of a dancer and a fervent vocal delivery Ms. Ortiz is quite compelling.

Kim Brockington makes a great impact with her radiant charm as Elaine.  Ms. Brockington coolly demonstrates a professional demeanor, exhibits concern for Abigail by trying to set her up on a date with a man and erupting in icy fury when learning that she’s been deceived.

A neat sight gag is having the droning intercom school announcements done by seeing the imposing Ryan Vincent Anderson as the “P.A. System.” Mr. Anderson appears in drag with his head seen through a small round window to hysterical effect. Anderson also plays a stalwart Haitian priest who officiates at a gay wedding with soulfulness and a perfect accent. His cartoon-like turn as Pope Benedict is another facet of his antic forcefulness.

Ryan Vincent Anderson and Vanessa Butler in a scene from “Scissoring” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

As in Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris, the production gives us the exact depiction of historical personages that we want. Marie Louise Guinier is a tough, caustic and supportive Lorena Hickok. With flutiness and down to earth regality, Elise Santora is a marvelous Eleanor Roosevelt.

Sound designer Fan Zhang achieves a bracing aural environment with musical selections and effects that enhance the presentation. Christina Watanabe’s lighting design has starkness and vigorous blackouts that enable each scene transition to have a climactic tone.

From vintage garments that recall the past to stylish and corporate wear as well as outrageous ensembles for some fantasy figures, costume designer Heather McDevitt Barton’s creations are inspired.

Scissoring stands as an accomplished work of theater that deals with topical issues which besides gay rights and religion also touches on restricted immigration to the U.S. The present political climate magnifies its resonance and relevance.

Scissoring (through June 30, 2018)

INTAR, 500 West 52nd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.intartheatre.org

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (548 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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