The 15th Edition of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival is underway from January 3-13. Here are reports on two of the offerings:
Hear Word! Naija Women Talk True ★★★★
Although 2018 was declared the #MeToo year, it looks as if the trend is continuing into 2019. One example of its strength is the new House of Representatives with its 102 female members. Another is the January 3 arrival of Hear Word! Naija Women Talk True, an in-your-face series of monologues, duologues and so on of women discussing in no uncertain terms their repression, suppression, and verbal and physical abuse in patriarchal societies.
Yes, the 10 women testifying—while percussionists Emeka Anokwuru and Blessing Idireri bang away stage right—are Nigerian and appearing in an iOpenEye Ltd. Production under company founder and director Ifeoma Fafunwa. But there’s no question that their plights are just about universally recognizable. Sure, genital mutilation is limited—if it can be called that—to Africa, Asia and other middle East countries, but almost all of the other vociferously exclaimed complaints heard are indigenous globally.
For instance, one sketch has three women talking about sexual harassment in the office and in public places. One of them explains keeping her mouth shut about the assaults by saying, “I need the job.” If that’s not a quote that could be uttered in just about any language, it would be interesting to learn. This trio has its say early, which is certainly indicative of Fafunwa wanting to make certain no one misses the widespread Hear Word! Application.
The outraged revue doesn’t stop at man’s inhumanity to women. A weighty sample is devoted to how women themselves can blithely diss women, the practice a result of their being socialized among men. One distraught woman who introduces herself as the mother of four daughters reports how she is believed inferior to women in her community who pride themselves as being the mother of only one son.
As for the stamping of men as the major deleterious population. Hear Word! eventually runs the risk of not only regarding women as worthy solely for their ability to give birth but men as worthy solely for their sperm-donor status. In the nick of time, however, there’s one routine where the existence of good men is acknowledged and celebrated.
In later material, Hear Word! pointedly gets around to women’s liberation, and that does mean sexual liberation. One rousing number is a paean to the vagina, which leads to another aspect of the 90-minute piece:
There is a healthy amount of singing and dancing. The frequent dancing implicitly raises a question that otherwise goes unaddressed—possibly because it aims at a widespread and as-yet-unexamined attitude towards relationship between the genders. Much of the dancing here includes familiar hip-swiveling and shoulder-shimmying. From one perspective, this could be considered honoring the female body. From another, it could be viewed as reverting to traditional forms of female enticements of men.
The heated cast members are Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, Joke Silva, Elvina Ibru, Omonor, Ufuoma McDermott, Zara Udofla-Ejoh, Rita Edward, Debbie Ohiri, Odenike and Oluchi Odii, all of them wearing costume after costume by Ituen Basi that form their own eye-dazzling fashion parade. This likely small comfort to Nigerian women under societal siege, but somehow the women do express themselves marvelously through their wardrobes.
Hear Word! Nail Women Talk True opened January 3, 2019, at the Public Theater and runs through January 7. Tickets and information: publictheater.org
Of all the properties in public domain and easy to fool around with for stage adaptation, it could be that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein receives the most diddling. At the moment a musical-comedy version is due in Manhattan—and no, it isn’t a revival of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein).
And here now at Under the Radar is the Manuel Cinema treatment of the well-known, well-worn classic during which the story is told again with—the program note promises—some insertions of author Shelley’s own story.
The Manuel Cinema group does just what their moniker suggest. All members of the “performance collective, design studio and film/video production company founded in 2010” by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, Ben Kauffman, Julia VanArsdale Miller and Kyle Vegter take credit for the script, which is devised by Dir, Fornace and Miller from Dir’s concept. Dir is the storyboarder and, with Lizi Breit, the puppet designer. Davonte Johnson is the video and set designer, the set boasting the standard look for anything multimedia.
The contingent of Manual Cinema writers, actors and puppeteers (Fornace, Miler. Breit, Leah Casey, Sara Sawicki doing the puppeteering and thesping) stick very close to the notion of “manual” in their work. In this multimedia Frankenstein–where the action is played out and simultaneously videoed and projected on a large (enough) screen—everything has a definitely hand-made look.
That certainly extends to the monster’s mask, which Miller wears. The danged thing does have decided scare potential when seen in close-up. It’s heavily crusted and looks as if the cursed creature wasn’t so much created on a laboratory slab as hastily molded from barren earth after a category 5 hurricane passed.
In lifting the tale from page to stage, however, not only has the Shelley menace drained more than seems helpful but also gone is the emotion clinging to that poor inhuman thing trying to survive in a hostile world. The Manuel Cinema bunch certainly has the right to do what it wants, but perhaps the members also have the obligation to do more than present their rough-hewn take as the entire raison d’être. Are they all so busy doing everything that they’ve forgotten to take a collective basilisk eye to the finished (if it’s ever considered finished) product?
But then there’s the original music by Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman, who also designed the sound. That production facet never seems to stop, and it definitely has the warranted creep factor.
The Under the Radar Festival opened January 3, 2019, at the Public Theater (and other venues) and runs through January 13. Tickets and information: publictheater.org
Hear Word! Nail Women Talk True opened January 3, 2019, at the Public Theater and runs through January 7.
Frankenstein opened January 3, 2019, at the Public Theater and runs through January 12.