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Nevertheless, She Persisted - Theatre Review

By Bill Garry

"Nevertheless, She Persisted" is an evening of five short plays by women playwrights. L.A.'s Echo Theater Company created the show as a response to the outright sexism now playing in our country's political theater.

If you're looking for feminist bonding and uplifting anthems, this is not the place, despite the show's hopeful title. What the show does gives you is five windows -- grimy, gritty windows -- into the contemporary world of twenty-something women.

Joey Stromberg, Landon Mirisciotti, Kaiti O'connor
Photo by Darrett Sanders

First up is "At Dawn," by Calamity West, directed by Ahmed Best. In an isolated cabin, a woman is interrogated by the police about her sexual, political, and financial associations. There is constant threat of physical abuse and, when it happens, it is swift and brutal. While I appreciate the show's powerful statement about women's lack of power over their own lives, the intensity of the violence cast a pall over the rest of the evening. I would have liked to see this piece performed in a later slot. Also jarring: this piece is set in 2047 -- thirty years in the future -- but the setting and dialogue felt more like the distant past.

"Yajū," written and directed by Mary Laws, brings us back to the present. A twenty-something daughter named Ray and her mother, Hope, discuss the mysterious death of the family pet. The conversation shifts from banal arts'n crafts to dark forces. Is Ray numb? Psychotic? Or just infantilized by her mother? The play doesn't answer any questions. It just takes us on a dizzying merry-go-round ride.

"Sherry and Vince," by Charlotte Miller, directed by Tara Karsian, is another tête-à-tête between a twenty-something woman and an adversary. Sherry visits a man in prison whose rape of her started a cycle of horrific tragedy in her family. Vince mansplains. Sherry struggles. Vince belittles. Sherry wavers. Vince confesses. Sherry takes back her power. These characters are fascinating creations, and are ready for a bigger play -- and bigger world -- to be built around them.

"Do You See," written and directed by Sharon Yablon, is the longest of the pieces. It's a multi-scene play that takes us into the world of three twenty-something friends living under the constant threat of sexual exploitation and assault. It's another view through the grimy window.

Wendy is a sex addict. Dana is numbed out. Angela, smart and sensible, is trying to find herself by finding a husband and/or following the crowd. Dave, the lone man, veers from asshole to nice guy to threat. The women spend most of their scenes together standing awkwardly and sharing their anxiety.

The writer then gives us an emotional subplot that seems as if it is from another play. A young woman from the neighborhood is missing and a "Have You Seen Her" flier is posted on the telephone pole in front of Dana's apartment building. One day, the missing woman's mother shows up at Dana's door in search of her daughter. Real feelings are unleashed by Violet, the mother, and Dana is swept along. The scenes with Violet (I'll tell you about the gifted actress who portrays her later) flow naturally and bring the piece to life, even as we are certain that Violet's daughter is dead.

Rachael Olsem, Lindsay Graves Fisher
Photo by Darrett Sanders
The final piece, "Violet," by Jacqueline Wright, directed by Teagan Rose, provides a short, simple and welcoming coda to a strenuous night of theatre. After a man rapes Violet (no relation to the character in the earlier piece), she sits by herself in her dark apartment, going through the anger, doubt, panic and hopelessness that you would expect. Then Lea, her neighbor and friend, enters the scene. Lea holds Violet and calms her. She tells Violet that there is healing and hope in the light. And curtain.

The Echo Theater Company is known for "Ballsy Original Plays," as LA Weekly puts it, and Nevertheless, She Persisted delivers on that ballsiness. But five plays with the same depressing outlook does not make an enlightening night of theatre. I am the parent of a twenty-something woman and my date for the show was a slightly-older-than-twenty-something woman. I know that this is reality. But the opportunity was to show multi-dimensional characters of diversity and nuance, not clichés; the young women as dingbats, the men as rapists and the mothers living in the past.

Yet all of the actors -- members of the Echo's Associate Company -- are solid, believable, and due applause. Mostly twenty-somethings, they created personalities that fit the characters to a T and took their roles as far as the writing allowed. Three actors transcended the clichés with authentic, engaging performances; they are Alex Waxler (Dave) and Susan Louise O'Connor (Violet) in "Do You See," and Julie Dretzin (Hope) in "Yajū."

Mr. Waxler wanders into the "Do You See" party scene as a Cro-Magnon trying to impress and get laid. As he loosens up and reveals his New Age side, Dana falls for him and we approve. Mr. Waxler gets us to root for him. When he returns for a last dance with a very bad intention, we are angry with the playwright, not the character.

Susan Louise O'Connor takes on Violet, the mother of the missing woman, with such depth and feeling that I wanted the play to be re-written around her. While the other characters shallowly speculate about the missing woman, Ms. O'Conner sees her.

Julie Dretzin is Hope, the manipulative mother in "Yajū." Her carefully calibrated performance plays off of, and contributes to, her partner's performance. As the play spins, Ms. Dretzin compels us to watch.

These performances tell me that the playwrights were able to create magic when they stretched themselves and imagined characters that were beyond their own experience. I'd watch for more from Ms. West, Ms. Laws, Ms. Miller, Ms. Yablon and Ms. Wright.

Posted By Discover Hollywood on September 11, 2017 10:29 am | Permalink