Moving successfully from the screen to the stage can be a nerve-wracking endeavor, but don’t tell that to actress Alia Shawkat. Later this week, the “Search Party” and “Arrested Development” star is making her theatrical debut in an undeniably ambitious fashion: performing the same scene for 24-hours straight, accompanied by a turnstile of 100 male-identified co-stars.
Her endurance gig comes courtesy of “The Second Woman,” a piece running as part of Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival from Oct. 18 to Oct. 19. Created by Australian playwrights Nat Randall and Anna Breckon, the production centers on a deceptively simple scene inspired by the John Cassavetes meta film “Opening Night” (1977), which spins around an actress losing her connection to reality.
In Randall and Breckon’s reinterpretation, a woman (Shawkat) waits in a motel for her suitor to arrive. When he finally does, the pair engage in awkward conversation, joke together, dance around, and then he leaves her. For Shawkat, this single interaction will be repeated 100 times with an assemblage of professional and amateur actors, slowly exposing gendered power dynamics that remain consistent despite co-stars who range in age, profession and appearance. Cameras capture each iteration as it happens and blast the footage onto a projected screen, a move aimed at showcasing how the smallest improvisations can dramatically alter the entire performance.
In an interview with ALL ARTS, Breckon acknowledged the dedication and stamina required of the crew, which is composed of women and non-binary workers, and Shawkat, who will perform the scenes in an enclosed, transparent structure draped with gauzy fabrics.
“The work required of [her] is immense,” Breckon said. “She is heading into a performance with more variables than certainties and must carry the show and its logics for 24-hours. Only in the case of a technical emergency will anyone but her and the participants be able to enter the box.”
Like the show in Sydney, which debuted to rave reviews in 2017, the U.S. iteration draws its aesthetic influence from 1970s American independent cinema. Meanwhile, projected images inherit their stylistic cues from women’s melodrama, a genre that unabashedly dedicated itself to female representation and lived experience — and was duly trivialized for it, Breckon noted.
“Our investment in this genre is in part because it connects the contemporary operations of patriarchy to the history of female feeling and labor as it has been represented on screen,” Breckon said.
She concluded, “‘The Second Woman’ is largely about female emotional labor, and the ways in which women utilize feeling to access power and privilege.”
Audiences can drop in during the 24-hour tour de force anytime between 5 p.m. on Oct. 18 and 5 P.M. on Oct. 19. Ticket information is available on the BAM website.
Top Image: Alia Shawkat, star of "The Second Woman." Photo: Carlota Guerrero.