Irina Brook’s “just-between-us-girls” readings of feminist writings, in Shakespeare’s Sister–which played at LaMama through October 6–is retro—as if we’re dumped into the ‘70s again (something not so unusual for the East Village theatre scene or this theatre company). In the recitations, smartly staged and sung with live guitar and violin music, we hear that men are babies, men don’t love, and that you have to really, really, really, really like a man to love one. Of course, if a man spoke reciprocal lines about women on a NY stage, he’d be pussy whipped. The truth is that this is a bourgeois play about a fantasy, the fantasy of having women at hand, whether as mommies or lovers. The actresses in the production, pleasant and nurturing, are virtually absented from contemporary American hardscrabble life—Brook is British–and the show, of progression rather than plot, might as well be part of a permanent museum exhibition for young girls or college Women’s departments. From a male, American perspective, it needs a point, opposition, and a last act. It reminds of the affluent art of Mary Cassatt—with piped in French pop music and films of children playing house–missing the link to the very real, harder contemporary world of women’s lives in 2013.
The numbers report 6.3 percent unemployment for the gender here; 6 of 10 women, who become pregnant in their 20s, become single mothers; and yearly salaries, on average, are just over $35,000. Even Woolf’s idea that women can’t be artists or are uneducated seems out of sync. Sixty percent of those who get degrees in American higher education are women. Look around, there is no dearth of female representation in the Arts either. It’s also a little surprising to see “A Room of One’s Own” presented as if it’s an undiscovered gem—the essay is widely known in U.S. English departments. It’s hard to believe that Judith, the name Woolf gave William’s sibling, is still waiting to become an artist. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, I would agree that the delivery was imminent, but the reality of Judith, as opposed to the dream of her, is that she is Martha Stewart, if we want to look in the housewares department. If we want to look at literature and the arts, albeit to artists who might not have formed their own production companies like the Bard, she is Toni Morrison, she is Jung Chang, she is Liv Ullmann, she is Doris Lessing, she is Karen Finley, she is Caridad Svitch, she is Quiara Alegria Hudes, she is Mary Shelley, she is Vanessa Redgrave, she is Ellen Stewart or many, many, many others. Irina Brook has formed a very small, overly appealing, soft show about dreamy women—what’s, perhaps, most distressing about the passivity and nostalgia, when there are real instances of inequality between the sexes at hand—such as women’s struggles to climb corporate ladders, for example–is that she’s even kept them in the kitchen.
Featuring Nicole Ansari, Winsome Brown, Joan Juliet Buck, Sadie Jemmett, Yibin Li.
© 2013 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.