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Great Again – The A.R.T./New York Theatres, New York

Writers: Chiori Miyagawa/Crystal Skillman

Directors: Kristin Horton/ Jessi D. Hill

Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell

In early 2017, Project Y Theatre Company commissioned two playwrights to write work responding to the 2016 presidential election. The plays are presented as Great Again, an evening of theatre that kicks off Project Y’s second annual Women in Theatre Festival.

The first play of the evening is Chori Miyagawa’s In the Line, directed by Kristin Horton. It follows Leanne, a woman who drops a vital but ultimately abstract object as she stands in line. (On opening night, Maria-Christina Oliveras stepped into the role of Leanne as a last-minute understudy for Sol Marina Crespo.) The narrative follows Leanne as she looks for the object in a variety of lines—at a polling place, a concert, a nightclub, a video game console release, and a popular restaurant, where she interacts with concert-goers Christina and Nichole (Christina Liang  and Sade Namei), gamer Peter (Vichet Chum), fashionista and restaurant patron Ertha (Ashley Jones), club kid/selfie expert Judy (Kristen Kittel), and a ubiquitous white guy, simply called Man (Daniel Petzold), who mansplains their surroundings and the characters, stalling Leanne’s search.

In the Line is an interesting exercise in metaphor; it raises questions about what one’s place in a line means, who gets to be at the front of the line, and what it means to lose (and accept the loss of) something abstract. One could hardly expect a one-act play to fully answer all of these questions, but the play’s resolution is rushed and unsatisfying. The movement of the narrative from line to line is a neat idea, but the play feels like an early iteration of a work that needs more development. Although the script falls short, the acting is strong; performances are energetic and sincere.

The second play of the evening is Crystal Skillman’s The Test, directed by Jessi D. Hill. It focuses on Ada (Mary E. Hodges), an English teacher in a public high school who is preparing 11th grade students for important state exams. She arrives in her classroom one morning to discover a swastika carved into one of the desks. The school’s administration does little to respond to the incident, not even bothering to replace the desk. Ada’s student Zarina (Angel Moore) points the finger at her classmate Milo (Eric Wiegand), while history teacher Paige (Taylor Shurte) raises questions about Milo’s home life. Ada’s personal struggles exacerbate her difficulty in dealing with the matter. 

The Test is a thoughtful and timely work that doesn’t present easy answers to the dilemmas it depicts, but explores the angles that make the issues in question complex. Hallie Zieselman’s set captures the feel of a high school classroom with only a few simple set pieces, making the offending desk all the more disturbing—we can’t forget we’re in a classroom. Skillman definitely did her research for this play. Teachers in NYC schools will recognize the frequent “soft lockdowns” of Ada’s classroom, the pressure she faces for students to perform, and the criticism of the quality of her classroom bulletin boards. The performances in The Test are exceptional; the four-person cast truly functions as an ensemble.

Great Again is a mixed bag. Both plays may have been written in response to the election, but their pairing doesn’t feel organic—they are simply in dissimilar stages of development. While In the Line isn’t quite ready for audiences yet, The Test is a strong and fully realized work. That said, In the Line isn’t egregiously bad, it’s just underdeveloped, while The Test is definitely worth sitting through the first play.

Runs until 24 June 2017

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The American team is under the editorship of Adrienne Sowers. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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