Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
“No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness.”
In AMP, now playing at HERE Theater, playwright performer Jody Christopherson forges a curious and vital bond between two women separated by 100 years. The first is Mary Shelley, she whose imagination birthed Frankenstein, the classic science fiction horror, on a bet in a Geneva cottage. The second is Anna, once an aspiring cellist, now confined to an asylum outside of Boston. The two don’t appear to have much in common at first, but common truths begin to emerge as the play moves forward.
While Mary stalks the stage assembling pieces of the story of her childhood as the precocious daughter of early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and philosopher William Godwin, of her abuse at the hands of her father’s second wife, and of her love affair with and marriage to poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Anna remains locked on film. Her story is that of an unraveling, with intercut segments describing her removal from recess after an incident with another student—possibly and accident, possibly not—and dropped her in the school orchestra.
“No human being is born a monster, something has happened to turn this innocent child into a frightening adult.”
In both biographies, childhood talents are only just blooming when the girls fall victim to adults who deny them praise and applause, who could nurture their skills but instead choose to tear them down. The play’s title, AMP, can be read in two ways. The first is the scientific term for electric current. The second is a take on Mary Shelley’s most famous work, which features the subtitle “The Modern Promethues.”
In the Greek myth, Prometheus gives humanity fire, and is punished for the deed by being chained to a mountaintop to daily have his liver eaten out by an eagle without dying. Every night the organ regenerates for the following day’s torture. The similarity to his plight and these two women’s is that they were all set up for failure. They are all given the tools for success and then denied that success by the very people who insisted they take up the tools in the first place. That rejection or gaslighting, rightly, infuriates them. To be true to themselves, they have to break their chains and disappear into the ether.
Christopherson is a captivating performer. As Mary she exudes radiance that has nothing to do with the lightning and “laudanum.” Her cheeks are flush, her excitement palpable. As Anna, she is morose and sinister. Listening to her story, she doesn’t seem as honest and true Mary, as if there are a hundred details she refuses to admit. Yet she remains sympathetic, because like Mary and like so many women, her story doesn’t sound strange. It sounds familiar to the extreme to any woman who has been held back or told to stop being unladylike, that her interests aren’t becoming of a lady.
The stage setting is simple but very effective, a light fog hanging over all that catches the lights in ways that make it alternately hazy, dreamy, stormy. Christopherson has spliced pieces of her subjects’ work into her own, and we hear their voices cutting in to have their say every now and then. The technical skill necessary of sound designer Martha Goode to make it come together so seamlessly is incredibly impressive. Special kudos also go to director Isaac Byrne for making the video segments so genuinely, incredibly chilling.
AMP is a moving piece, with shocking moments that make it a truly visceral experience. It’s also worth experiencing as a feminist piece, of which the Marys—Wollstonecraft and Shelley—would have undoubtedly approved.
Photos by Hunter Canning
AMP Written and Performed by Jody Christopherson Directed by Isaac Byrne Playing at HERE Theater in a limited run through December 19, 2017
“You’re not supposed to stay in Rotterdam. It’s a port. Everything’s moving on, it’s just passing through, nothing’s standing still. It’s all on its way somewhere…else.”
There are more melodiously named cities in Europe. Rotterdam almost sounds like a curse muttered under the breath. Fortunately for all, and very unlike its namesake, the play named Rotterdam, now playing at 59E59 Theatres, is a thing of surprising beauty.
The story centers on Alice (Alice McCarthy) and Fiona (Anna Martine Freedman), who have both been living one way or another in the closet in the titular city. Alice is working on a letter to her parents to tell them she’s gay and living with a woman. Fiona, who has been out as a lesbian since she was 10 years old, has a secret of her own, but it isn’t until she reads Alice’s draft that she decides to acknowledge what she has been feeling the last several years. Her confession: She isn’t a lesbian, but rather a man who was born into a woman’s body. And she wants to transition.
Ellie Morris and Alice McCarthy
What do you do when someone you love tells you they’re actually something completely other than what you have come to know and love? In Alice’s case, her lover wants to come out as a man—something Alice hasn’t had any real interest in pursuing because Alice, as she’s trying to tell her parents, is a lesbian. If she loves Fiona, who wants to grow a beard, flatten his chest and be called Adrian from now on, what does that make her? On the verge of admitting to the world who she is, her identity is called into question. Can she be a lesbian when the woman she loves isn’t really a woman? Alice is thrown into existential chaos, whereas Adrian is delighted that he can finally present himself as a man after a lifetime of pretending to be something he’s not.
Thrown into the mix are Fiona/Adrian’s surprisingly resilient brother Josh (Ed Eales-White), who also happens to be Alice’s best friend and one-and-only ex-boyfriend, and Alice’s colorful and exuberant 21-year-old gay coworker Lelani (Ellie Morris). Josh adds necessary perspective to the proceedings as the one who really has ‘been there and done that.’ Lelani is great because she’s so young and spontaneous and so fabulously lacking in perspective.
Anna Martine Freeman and Ed Eales-White
McCarthy and Freedman showcase incredible strength and control as actors, but also invite the audience to witness heartbreaking vulnerability. It’s no wonder that the play was awarded several of the London West End’s Olivier Awards: It’s generous with its open heart and wrenching in its honesty. Even the characters who lend most of the comic relief, Josh and Lelani, provide moments of insight that tug at the heartstrings in an “I’m glad I’m older and wiser” kind of way. They’re both incredibly refreshing though, and necessary on a number of levels.
Rotterdam is blessed with a perfectly on-point script by Jon Brittain and a quartet of actors who deliver universally outstanding performances. Brittain achieves a perfect balance of humor and heartbreak, proffering the opportunity to feel sharply contrasting emotions that somehow actually make the entire experience both realistic and bearable. On their own, each character is emotionally discordant, lacking something that would make them better, stronger people. Together however their shortcomings act in complement to one another, and the combined effect is lovely harmony.
With direction by Donnacadh O’Briain, even the interstitial moments, the moving of furniture and setting of props, is entertaining. The scenes transition beautifully, with fairly minimal set dressing and a soundtrack of toe-tapping, head-bobbing Dutch dance music keeping up the energy. O’Briain embraces the small space and allows the conversation and action to spill right up to the front row instead of opting to keep the actors at more than an arm’s length. And that’s what Rotterdam is like; it’s intimate but large as life. It implores you to really live, to try new things, to make the most of who and what is around, to feel and experience. It’s about learning and growing, even—and maybe especially—when it scares you. And knowing that there will always be someone to hold your hand when it does.
Photos by Hunter Canning Top photo: Anna Martine Freeman and Alice McCarthy
Rotterdam Written by Jon Brittain, directed by Donnacadh O’Briain Produced by Hartshorn – Hook Foundation Ltd for Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters 59 East 59th Street Through June 10, 2017 212-279-4200
Lonely people, in talking to each other, can make each other lonelier…Lillian Hellman
The venue is a high school and the story is about relationships in the present technological environment…but it is more. It is about the loneliness that appears to be a part of everyone’s life. But though thought provoking, Connected is also highly entertaining.
Comprised of a collection of vignettes, the work is wonderfully original, technically adept, and presented by an extremely talented cast. The eight cast members, Midori Francis, Dana Jacks, Joachim Boyle, Ella Dershowitz, Robby Clater, Thomas Muccioli, Gus Birney and Aria Shaoghasemi, each portray multiple characters. Given that challenge, each actor has very successfully fleshed out his or her individual characters.
Midori Francis and Ella Dershowitz
We first meet Meghan who has unintentionally become an instant celebrity when her video goes viral. It shows her doing a strip tease in the schoolyard and ends with her covered with body paint, a way she came up with for asking a long-time crush for a date to the prom. She is distraught, embarrassed and tearful at the unwanted publicity. Appearing on numerous talk shows, she ends up with Justin Bieber as her prom date.
There is a wide array of characters including (but not limited to) two partygirls whose sole purpose in life seems to be finding and being a part of “the perfect party,” a few individuals who consume vast amounts of vodka as a potential solution to life’s problems, and a teacher who, while on a dating website, unknowingly finds herself seduced by one of her students.
Robby Clater and Thomas Muccioli
There is also a girl who, though desperately needing a job, turns down an offer saying she can’t work evenings. The reason, which she does not disclose, is because that’s when she plays war craft games online. Some of the most ingenious scenes are these role-playing games portrayed on stage. Notable are the costumes designed by Jessa-Raye Court.
The predominant feeling expressed by everyone seems to be that “some people just have it all…I’ll never be like that.” The question posed is “Why are we all still so lonely?” At the end, there is no answer to the question, but simply hope offered with, “You keep trying.”
Midori Francis and Dana Jacks
Lia Romeo has written with a great deal of perception, and a talent for creating very believable dialogue. Director Michole Biancosino skillfully moves the production forward from one scene to another with ease. It is an ensemble work with all members of the creative and production teams working together successfully. Special mention goes to Set Design (Matthew J. Fick), Lighting Design (Ben Hagen) and Original Music and Sound Design (Amit Prakash).
Connected provides a thoroughly enjoyable, funny and thought provoking evening.
Photos by Hunter Canning
Opening: Thomas Muccioli, Midori Francis, Robby Clater, Gus Birney and Joachim Boyle
Connected, presented by Project Y Theatre Company, continues its run through March 26, Wednesday through Thursday at 7:30 and Friday and Saturday at 8:30 at 59E59 Theaters East 59th between Park and Madison.