How do you really talk about a country in crisis? Beyond the broad strokes of the news headlines and underneath the glossy sheen that nostalgia lays over recollections of the past, how can we get to the emotional truths of a political moment?
These are the questions at work in Donnetta Lavina Grays’s play “The Review or How to Eat Your Opposition.” For the second week of WP Theater’s 2018 Pipeline Festival, Grays took us back to 2001, to a shell shocked New York City attempting to make sense of its changing self in America’s post-9/11 era. The play follows the lives and intersections of four women: Dana, a young idealistic arts blogger; her more practically minded wife, Kerri; Naomi, a famous artist attempting a career comeback, and Gretchen, Naomi’s long-suffering manager, art dealer and reluctant landlord.
Part of the appeal of the festival is the opportunity to view works in various stages of development. For this run of “The Review,” this meant that the actors on stage were holding scripts during their performances and that the play had recently been gut renovated and updated from the original version, which was written in 2011, because, according to Grays’s notes in the program, the first version was “written with the buzz of progress in my ears.” Her residency with WP Theater gave her and her creative team (director Melissa Crespo and producer Roxanna Barrios) the opportunity to rearrange and reimagine. In a recent conversation with ALL ARTS, Grays discussed how the current political moment in the U.S. impacted the development of the script. “The core of the play flashed into focus as if being jolted out of an era of Hope and Change into an era which vows to Make America Great Again,” she said.
The play is inherently political in that it speaks to America’s shifting identity, but it is not about politicians or political campaigns. Indeed, it is primarily about art, love and sports, and how these are the contexts through which we humans metabolize our experiences of the larger world into our daily interactions and lived realities. The strength of the production is how intimately it allows the audience access to the inner worlds of the characters. From Kerri passionately extolling the importance of everyday art by describing American football as “war in ballet tights” to Dana accusing Naomi of selling out in creating work that cynically panders to America’s thirst for empty sensationalism, it is through the lives, loves, connections and conversations of these four women that Grays paints an emotional portrait of the American psyche post 9/11.
The 2018 Pipeline Festival, which runs through April 29, bills itself as the best place to meet the next generation of women and trans theater-makers, and over five weekends WP Theater presents five new plays created by five collaborative creative teams from WP Theater’s celebrated two-year lab residency. More information on show times and tickets can be found here.