Thursday, July 25, 2019

The "P" Word

"I found her diary underneath the tree, and started reading about me." Words from a Bread song  I probably first heard around the same time I first heard the word "pussy." I still know all the words to the song, and still cringe at the "P" word.

At that time, the "P" word was used almost exclusively as a pejorative or sexual term. Something said to hurt someone deeply or used sexually - often pornographically. It is no longer the dirty little secret seldom whispered in public. It is a battle cry for women reclaiming their power (think of the "pussy hat" phenomenon for the Women's March). For the girls of Dance Nation and Teacher Pat's (Chris Klinger) dance team preparing for regionals and beyond, it is a mantra of primal power and discovery.

Clare Barron's pulitzer prize-nominated play Dance Nation is a brilliant exploration of the pressures of teenage adolescence with some supernatural twists and turns and a sarcastic and caustic sense of humor. It is also a tough, provocative, combative, and in your face drama not for the feint of heart.

Watching Dance Nation was like being exposed to my 13-year-old self in all its tumultuous glory (that feeling you get when someone reads your diary, maybe?). I was even part of a competitive team - marching band for me - complete with the coach's inspired pep talks pre-competition and a choreographed team cheer. And while I was contending with my menstrual cycle and struggling with my sexual orientation, my friend Brook - much like Connie (Sanam Laila Hashemi) - was still playing with Barbie dolls.

Amina (Lydia Hynes) and Zuzu (Trinitee Pearson) competing for the right for the coveted solo might as well have been the infamous battle over first and second chair waged between me and my friend Renee. It was technical skill versus passion, and depending on coach's mood, I was most often second chair. My father once scolded our band director for preferring precision over passion.

I haven't been so uncomfortable since seeing the masturbation scene in I Love You, Man in the movie theater with my two teenage sons. And it is okay to be uncomfortable. Important even. Life is not a smooth cake walk along a perfectly shady tree-lined boulevard with whimsical melodies to lighten the way. It is fucking messy. And I can't think of a messier time than adolescence.

Bravo to gutsy director Maggie Roop and the fantastic cast and crew of TheatreLAB's production of Barron's pulitzer-prize nominated play.  The production and performances are unforgettable and shocking. I am embarrassingly squeamish at the "P" word, and that meant that at least 200 times throughout the evening, I was squirming in my seat hoping no one would notice my discomfort.

Photo Credit: Tom Topinka

Great theatre doesn't just entertain. It informs, illuminates, provokes, pushes envelopes, and has a lasting impact. TheatreLAB's Dance Nation is great theatre.

I left Dance Nation wanting to reclaim my own power.

"Perfect pussy," I whispered.

Baby steps.

Dance Nation continues through August 3rd. For tickets click here.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Tornadoes on Broad Street

Last Saturday night I fell for a man with no heart, and swooned over another with no brains. Sounds like my past love life. Throw in my mad crush on Glinda and it almost sounds like Confessions of a Bi-girl: Her Diary.

Aaron Sutten Photography

While Virginia Rep's November Theatre put on a very fun overall production of The Wiz, it was a tin man (D. Jerome Wells), a scarecrow (Dylan T. Jackson), a good witch (Jessi Johnson) and some stellar choreography that stole the show.

Aaron Sutten Photography
The tornado scene was exceptionally well choreographed. Very cool. And I may be just a little more prone to self-confidence this week after Glinda's rendition of Believe in Yourself. Okay, Ms. Johnson, if you insist.

The story, of course, was familiar. The Wiz was updated in the 1970s from the 1930s Wizard of Oz as a soul version portraying contemporary African American culture both based on the beloved book by L. Frank Baum.

Mariah Lyttle's Dorothy was charming and playful, particularly in her interactions with her companions on the yellow brick road. And Brandon LaReau's Cowardly Lion was terrifyingly sweet.

The Wiz had all the elements - good acting, singing, choreography, set, and a fantastic orchestra led by Anthony Smith. Everything was well-executed. But with the exception of a handful of songs  - Ease on Down the Road, and Believe in Yourself notably - I didn't find the music particularly memorable. I didn't leave singing any of the tunes in my head. So it wasn't my favorite musical, but I admired most aspects of Virginia Rep's production of it.

The Wiz continues through August 4. For tickets click here.