Adaptor: Q Brothers Collective
Book, Music & Lyrics: Q Brothers Collective with Postell Pringle
Director: Michelle Tattenbaum
Reviewer: Adrienne Sowers
Feminism was declared the word of the year for 2017. Thanks to the prevalence of the #MeToo movement, the Women’s March after Trump’s inauguration, and expanded visibility of women’s issues, feminism is a hot topic in contemporary culture.
Perhaps that is how a rap musical adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata penned by four men made its way to the stage at The Flea. The concept is strong – the Greeks are often overlooked in favor of Shakespeare for contemporary retellings, and in 2018 America, Lysistrata is rife with material to mine. With sharp performances against a stunning design, particularly John McDermott’s fraternity house set and Oona Curley’s vibrant lighting, the show has promise.
Unfortunately, the problematic execution of the script itself detracts from the talent onstage. The most well-rounded character is a mansplaining male feminist who becomes a romantic foil for Liz Estrada by the end of the play. There are jokes about various hot-button sexual assault cases that are more offensive than incisive. There is talk about a “re-vagina-lution,” and when a character calls out the term as trans-exclusive, it sets off a series of jokes about inclusive language but then reverts back to the problematic term. When a man is asked to live as a woman to understand what women experience everyday, he is automatically treated as though he passes as a cisgender woman as opposed to a cisgender man in a dress and padding (basically a 1980s movie trope on stage). The suspension of disbelief required to allow issues like these to slide, in a play that pats itself on the shoulder for being “woke,” is more than this critic could muster.
Director Michelle Tattenbaum drives the fire of the collegiate fervor of this production, utilizing the momentum of the rap and the stakes of the plot to sustain the energy required for a show of this nature. Both Tattenbaum and the woman members of the cast contribute much-needed feminine knowledge to Ms. Estrada, but the thematic and rhetoric issues of the script are so glaring that they undermine the work of the women in the room. Ms. Estrada shows promise, but it meanders and doesn’t always seem to know what it wants to do.
ms. estrada loudly proclaims itself as a socially aware thinkpiece comedy that brings women’s issues to the stage. And truly, that seems to be the intent. However, short-sighted storytelling littered with buzzwords and contradictions undermines a compelling concept. A disclaimer at the top of the show about four men writing a play about women addresses but does not close the experiential gap. Bringing women into the writing and development process earlier on would give this script much-needed nuance and depth, as challenged source material can only be taken so far once the rehearsal and production process begins.
Runs until 22 April 2018 | Image: Hunter Canning