VIEWPOINTS – [PORTO], IN THE BODY OF THE WORLD, and HINDLES WAKE: Feminist playwrighting then and now

These are interesting times for feminist thought and activity in this country. Not surprisingly, this collective shift in balance is being reflected in a recent crop of productions in New York…

in Kate Benson's "[Porto]" at Women's Project Theater.

Julia Sirna-Frest in Kate Benson’s “[Porto]” at Women’s Project Theater.

Last night, Kate Benson’s [Porto] (RECOMMENDED) opened at the Women’s Project Theater. The production was originally staged at that Brooklyn theatrical hotbed The Bushwick Starr about a year ago. I had missed that acclaimed run and was therefore excited to see it pop up in WP Theater’s current season. Ms. Benson’s intentionally elliptical work is what I’d like to think of as a post-feminist play. [Porto] is realistic and fantastic, many times jarringly all at once. There’s a lot going on in this short, fascinating play about a modern single woman’s experiences, many of them mundane (for example, reading at a bar with a glass of wine), of living in the big city. It’s seemingly narrated by a disembodied voice and interrupted by a number of bizarre interjections (including giant rabbits). Over the course of the play, you’re given clues that these “overlays” – even the narrator’s commentary – are in fact being conjured, consciously and/or unconsciously, by our titular heroine, Porto (played with understated grace and refreshing frankness by Julia Sirna-Frest). The play seems to ask: how can one find happiness and resolution in one’s life with all these voices, many of them contradictory, in our heads? Tantalizingly, director Lee Sunday Evans, who also voiced the narrator, handles this dilemma in a calm, deadpan manner. While I thought Ms. Evans and Ms. Benson’s last collaboration A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes was over-baked, I thought their work on [Porto] falls just on this side of pretentiousness, making for incisive, indelible theater.

Eve Ensler in MTC's production of "In the Body of the World" at New York City Center.

Eve Ensler in MTC’s production of “In the Body of the World” at New York City Center.

Last night also marked the opening of Eve Ensler’s new one-woman show In the Body of the World (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED), courtesy of Manhattan Theater Club. The production hails from Boston, where it was staged by the American Repertory Theater. Ms. Ensler is best known to theatergoers as the writer of The Vagina Monologues, which was first performed in New York more than two decades ago. Much has changed in the world – and in Ms. Ensler’s own life – since then. You see, In the Body of the World chronicles not only Ms. Ensler’s continued involvement in feminism via her activist work with the ravaged women of war-torn the Democratic Republic of Congo, it also tells her own harrowing story of being diagnosed with, living with, and recovering form Stage III B/Stage IV cancer. The impassioned, indispensable Ms. Ensler gets gritty and personal in her brave, soulful, and deeply moving solo show. The three chapters that make up the evening are gorgeously-written and performed with astonishing determination, defiance, and ultimately grace. The entire affair is classily framed in just the right light by Tony-winning director Diane Paulus, whose conceptual and visual coup at the play’s conclusion is simply breathtaking.

Sandra Shipley and Rebecca Noelle Brinkley in Stanley Houghton's "Handles Wake" at the Mint Theater Company.

Sandra Shipley and Rebecca Noelle Brinkley in Stanley Houghton’s “Handles Wake” at the Mint Theater Company.

Also playing in New York is a rare – to say the least – revival of Stanley Houghton’s 1912 play Hindles Wake (RECOMMENDED) via the Mint Theater Company. Astonishingly, the play has not been performed in New York since 1922, where it failed to catch theatergoers’ imagination. Set in northern England at the turn of the (twentieth) century, the play tells the tale of an engaged man who spends a weekend out of town with another woman. When he’s faced with the decision to either proceed with the engagement with his fiancé or make an honest woman out his, for a lack of a better term, “girlfriend”, the play’s drama ensues. What’s unexpected, and totally ahead of its time, is the way the playwright – a man (!) – turns the play’s central moral dilemma on its head. I won’t spoil the twist, but it’s remarkable to see in this otherwise conventional drawing room play. The folks at the Mint, as usual, do an extraordinary job of polishing and producing these lost plays to a sparkling sheen, particularly with such limited financial resources. They can be proud to add Hindles Wake to their growing collection of well-acted reclaimed treasures.


Off-Broadway, Play
Women’s Project Theater, a co-production with The Bushwick Starr, in association with New Georges
1 hour, 15 minutes (without an intermission) 
Through February 25

Off-Broadway, Play
Manhattan Theatre Club presents American Repertory Theater’s production at New York City Center
1 hour, 15 minutes (without an intermission) 
Through March 25

Off-Broadway, Play
Mint Theater Company
2 hours, 15 minutes (with one intermission)
Through February 17

Categories: Off-Broadway, Theater

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