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Maiden Voyage

An exploration into the thoughts, feelings, and actions of a group of sailors who represent the first all-female crew on any submarine.

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Brenda Crawley as Captain Ricky Martin and Adrianne Banda as Scooby in a scene from Cayenne Douglass’ “Maiden Voyage” at The Flea Theater (Photo credit: Dianna Bush Photography)

[avatar user=”Scotty Bennett” size=”96″ align=”left”] Scotty Bennett, Critic[/avatar]

Consider, if you will, being in a steel tube a thousand feet underwater, churning through the ocean as one on a nuclear submarine crew. Your time at sea is measured in the shift rotations you share with your fellow mates on and off duty. Imagine spending three months or more with the same people doing the same thing, all within the close confines of that tube. What happens to your sense of connection with the outside world or with yourself within this inside world?

Maiden Voyage explores the thoughts, feelings, and actions of a group of sailors who represent the first all-female crew on any submarine. The audience is a spectator in the lives of these intrepid women. Cayenne Douglass, the playwright and producer, has created a story that provides a well-tuned blend of personality types who are forced to closely interact not only within their professional lives but also within their personal lives. It is the reality of a submariner. There are no places to hide on a submarine when interpersonal things get tough.

The play opens with an action sequence as the ship gets underway for a nearly three-month patrol. The set by Frank J Oliva is a simple area of rectangular boxes with two lighted panels on each side of the stage arrayed to look like control panels with lighted buttons and switches. A crew of seven occupies the space, each in a position related to their naval role, with the captain seated at the center. They are all officers.

This group comprises four veteran submariners and three relatively new crew members, representing the first all-female crew on a nuclear submarine. The captain, Ricky Martin, perfectly embodied by Brenda Crawley (alternating performances with Tricia Mancuso Parks), is a veteran on her last cruise. She handpicked a crew that she considers the best female submariners in the U.S. Navy. While that may be true concerning their naval skills, it turns out not true regarding their interpersonal skills.

Shimali De Silva as Esmeralda, Georgia Kate Cohen as Twinkle Toes and Rachel Greisinger as  Ace in a scene from Cayenne Douglass’ “Maiden Voyage” at The Flea Theater (Photo credit: Bronwen Sharp)

Under Alex Keegan’s skillful direction, the characters are allowed to develop their understanding of who they are and how they fit in an organization traditionally run by men. The captain is the one most aware of the paternalistic nature of military organizations, so she is determined that this patrol will be completed without issues. Crawley shows us the struggle the captain has in finding a balance between her personal actions from a female perspective and those that are conditioned from a male perspective. This male-oriented conditioning is less of an issue with other team members, although there are suggestions that it still influences their official duties.

The cast is solid in their portrayals of their characters. As Ace, the Executive Officer, Rachel Greisinger presents her character as a levelheaded, sensitive, steadying influence. Kait Hickey gives a strong performance as the bully Sledge, who is also an open lesbian whose posture of toughness is tested at a critical moment in the story. Natasha Hakata gives a solid characterization of Dot Com. She is from a military family, so the male/female issues of military service have been a part of her life. Twinkle Toes, convincingly played by Georgia Kate Cohen, is a deeply religious person who is struggling with her sexual identity. Arianne Banda gives a moving performance as Scooby in a pivotal scene with the captain. It is a moment in Part 2 when essential elements of the story are played out. The final member of this group of submariners is Esmeralda, one of the junior officers given a solid portrayal by Shimali De Silva.

The show’s first half does an excellent job of defining the characters. The dialogue between different sets of characters also provides structure to the overall story arc of answering the question of what differentiates women from men in this particular environment. In the third scene, the newbies are talking in the mess about the nature of the patrol they are on.

Natasha Hakata as Dot Com in a scene from Cayenne Douglass’ “Maiden Voyage” at The Flea Theater (Photo credit: Bronwen Sharp)

ESMERALDA

Yeah, we don’t get a welcome home because they have problems with us being here. We’re the ones who should get something more for having to put up with the way they treated us.

TWINKLE TOES

We shouldn’t get special treatment because we’re women.

And a little later in the scene:

TWINKLE TOES

They’re used to having it one way.

ESMERALDA

Right, I’ve heard the arguments “fucking Lord of the Flies underwater and shit.”

TWINKLE TOES

Stop complaining. You don’t have it rough. It’s women of The Captain’s generation who paved the way.

And then to give the whole discussion about men versus women a close:

TWINKLE TOES

Being proud and indulging it are two different things. This patrol isn’t important because we’re women. It’s important because of our service. You’re taking us back with that talk.

Georgia Kate Cohen as Twinkle Toes in a scene from Cayenne Douglass’ “Maiden Voyage” at The Flea Theater (Photo credit: Bronwen Sharp)

With the characters’ personalities well-established, Part 2 introduces the issues that will test each of them in terms of their professionalism and personality. An incident involving Sledge and Scooby sets the stage for an emotionally powerful interaction between the captain, Ricky Martin, and Scooby. Sledge is also involved in a situation concerning Dot Com that tests her “tough girl” persona. The performances by Crawley, Hickey, Banda, and Hakata in these scenes are first-rate.

There is an assumption that all management of the sub’s operations should be different under a woman’s command than a man’s, including interpersonal relations. While this may be true regarding interpersonal relations, it is not valid regarding many command and control aspects. Much of command and control is gender-neutral; nevertheless, how the commander interacts with the subordinates may be influenced by gender roles.

I think this is a show worth seeing. However, my concern is that the distinction between a patriarchal view or response, a matriarchal view or response, and a non-gender response is not as straightforward as it could have been. The show could better delineate these nuances of behavior to clarify the distinctions in terms of the story arc. In the end, it still provides some thoughtful ideas.

The simplicity of Oliva’s sets allows for fast scene changes and conveys a stark, cramped quality that is true to the interior of a submarine. As always, lighting design is a critical element of any play, but it is especially important in a small venue. John Salutz’s lighting design is solid in guiding and supporting the action without intruding. Elliot Yokum faced an interesting challenge in creating a sonic environment that would relate to the interior of a submarine. The electronic and mechanical sounds achieve that, including adding whale sounds at various points in the play. Stephanie Mae Miller’s costume design uses coveralls as the primary uniform, and it works well, making the need for costume changes minimal. It also fits with the simplicity of the sets. Projections are an important element at various points in the show, and Taylor Edelle Stuart’s projection design nicely complements the set design.

Maiden Voyage (through March 17, 2024)

The Siggy at The Flea Theater, 20 Thomas Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit https://events.humanitix.com/final-copy-of-maiden-voyage?_gl=1

Running time: two hours and 15 minutes including one intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

About Scotty Bennett (78 Articles)
Scotty Bennett is a retired businessman who has worn many hats in his life, the latest of which is theater critic. For the last twelve years he has been a theater critic and is currently the treasurer of the American Theatre Critics Association and a member of the International Association of Theatre Critics. He has been in and around the entertainment business for most of his life. He has been an actor, director, and stage hand. He has done lighting, sound design, and set building. He was a radio disk jockey and, while in college ran a television studio and he even knows how to run a 35mm arc lamp projector.

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