It wouldn’t be wrong to call British playwright Alice Birch’s ”Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.” a feminist manifesto, but the word itself is largely absent, a point strikingly — and hilariously — underlined at Washington Ensemble Theatre.
Characters do not throw around the f-word in “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.”
It wouldn’t be inaccurate to call British playwright Alice Birch’s work a feminist manifesto, but the word itself is largely absent, a point strikingly — and hilariously — underlined in a hectic finale where a variety of men can’t quite bring themselves to say it.
“Of course I’m a …” they say, trailing off into indistinct mumbling before the f-sound even starts to come out. One has a daughter; one has a wife; one has been “around women.” Who cares about labels, right?
‘Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.’
by Alice Birch. Through Oct. 10 at 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle; $15-$25 (206-325-5105 or washingtonensemble.org).
But in her ruthless 70-minute one-act, Birch persuasively makes a case: Language — and labels — matter. A lot. The punctuated, staccato rhythm of the play’s title is replicated in a series of take-no-prisoners vignettes, and in Washington Ensemble Theatre’s breakneck staging directed by Bobbin Ramsey, “Revolt” is an ecstatic satire, as funny as it is provocative and as moving as it is academic.
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Some may have lost interest at “feminist manifesto,” but most polemics aren’t nearly as entertaining as Birch’s, frontloaded with comedy before growing more abstract, and then, forcefully political. The play’s raison d’être is disrupting the status quo, so some segments are more sound and fury than anything else, but Birch hits her points hard and doesn’t linger, leaving little room for lag.
Backed by projected supertitles with varying degrees of sincerity (“Don’t Marry,” “Don’t Reproduce,” “Make [The Body] Sexually Available Constantly”), a collection of mostly discrete scenes chronicle the ways women are hemmed in by societal norms.
In the opening sequence, a woman (Ayo Tushinde) and a man (Joe Cummings) have returned home from a dinner date, and things are proceeding on a natural course. He wants to “make love to” her; she gently pushes back: “make love with.” That doesn’t quite fix it; the invasive, domineering language of sex and all its gendered implications can’t necessarily be simply adjusted.
Same goes for marriage. Even as one woman (WET’s artistic director Samie Spring Detzer) tries to explain that a wedding doesn’t have to be about reinforcing patriarchal values any more, her partner (Anna Kasabyan) demurs at her proposal. “You essentially said you wanted to reduce your income tax,” she says.
Domestic spaces aren’t the only ones afflicted with failures of communication. An office worker (Alyssa Bostwick) simply wants to stop working Mondays, but her boss (Arjun Pande) is constitutionally incapable of hearing her. Instead, he offers a cascade of workplace perks — vending machines! a gym! pet-friendly cubicles! — and the scene quickly becomes Kafkaesque.
The rebellions become less tangible and more violent as the play proceeds, but it’s tough breaking out of prescribed roles. Kasabyan is in the middle of detailing a painful history of physical and sexual abuse when she pauses, unsure; “Am I making this too sexy?” she wonders.
That sense of nagging self-doubt imbues the performances of all four women, each wearied by the accumulation of generational ills, but also capable of sharply and comically repudiating them.
“Revolt” laughs and rages, and the combination culminates in the only way possible: A primal scream of frustration and utter chaos that might be unwelcome in a longer play, but is a perfectly acidic ending to a compact poison pill.