Pole Dancing at TheaterLab
A REVIEW OF REVOLT SHE SAID, REVOLT AGAIN AT THEATERLAB.
By MICKEY GALVIN
After taking the elevator up three floors from 36th Street, you’ll arrive at TheaterLab, one of my favorite venues in the city. The space hosts the most pristine white box I’ve ever laid eyes on, which director Manuela Romero expertly utilizes in her staging of Revolt She Said, Revolt Again. The strength of Alice Birch’s 2016 play lies in its playful, ironic, and at times dangerous use of language. An ensemble of five actors (Lizzy Gesensway, Nile Assata Harris, Conner Keef, Sofía Figueroa, and Claudia Thiedmann) experiment and push the limits of third-wave feminism through separate scenes most absurd in their text and nature.
Romero’s direction consistently embraces the playfulness of Birch’s text, which has come off in other productions as unavailable to an audience eager to connect. Unnatural movements and choreography are expertly scattered through the play in a way that draws the audience in through spirit and humor.
Revolt’s ensemble excellently handles the play's tricky text with expert vocal control. Keef and Gesensway beautifully blend together in the first scene with both chemistry and comedic timing. Thiedmann communicates a real connection to Birch’s writing through an emotionally rich alto voice. Figueroa gives a delightful “uptight corporate personality.” Harris drives the second half of the show with heart and determination. Credit must also be given to the sixth cast member, a scorpion-bug-thing that ran across the stage in scene two before being captured by Keef (kudos).
The elephant in the room at the TheaterLab white box is a large pole placed directly stage center. On paper, it is what makes the space so repellant to most directors, but Romero utilizes this large protrusion for what it really is. A penis! Lol! Groped, pushed, stroked, and hit throughout the play, the pole playfully holds center as a metaphor for the limits and frustrations of feminism today. Set design by Karma Masseli and lighting by Kobi Masselli remain minimal but impactful throughout. Kiara Negroni-Martinez’s understated sound design excellently underscores the production.
Though Birch’s text is delightful in the flexibility it hands to directors and actors alike, the constant sense of displacement it invokes in an audience can make it difficult to maintain momentum. In the later third of the production, I felt some of this fatigue, but the emotional and raw delivery of a final monologue by Gesensway injected a sense of purpose into the chaos Birch builds. I was moved as Gesensway spoke about the gap between thought and action, between vision for change and reality. Birch attempts to add one final scene after this moment, a tie-it-all-together of sorts, but I prefer to be left with the fragments of Gesensway’s monologue: what if the “thought” of feminism is all we have?
See the show July 6-8 2023 @ TheaterLab in NYC
Run time: 1 hour 10 minutes