Writers: Eliza Bent, Kaaron Briscoe, Georgina Escobar, Amina Henry, Erin Mallon
Directors: Michole Biancosino & Andrew W. Smith
Reviewer: Jamie Rosler
While nothing is quite the same as seeing new plays in an intimate venue, Project Y Theatre Company’s streaming presentation of this year’s Women in Theatre Festival (WIT Fest) does a commendable job marrying the disparate media and setting up a valuable audience experience. Five female playwrights, commissioned to create short plays (two-hander means it’s for two actors) for a hybrid theatrical venture, explore themes ranging from (but not exclusively) theatre itself, to social media’s influence on our culture, to the potential relationship between neurodivergence and music.
Blackbox by Amina Henry is the opening play, uneasily ushering both actors and audience into the return of live performance. The unease is intentional, as it would be disingenuous to pretend the initial experience were anything other than unnerving. Joining actors Starr Kirkland and Timiki Salinas in their rediscovery of play, imagination and art for art’s sake, is a true delight, marred only by the technical downside of inadequate sound equipment for bridging the gap between performing in the titular location and meeting the requirements of the festival’s intended hybrid setting. This does not continue to be as big a problem with all five plays, but it’s an unfortunate way to begin the show.
#GirlPowerHour by Kaaron Briscoe features Starr Kirkland and Natalie Nankervis as striving social media influencers who, after an indeterminate amount of episodes, are finally breaking through the shell of superficiality and monotony to find their true voices. White feminism, patriarchy at large, and “live laugh love” platitudes are all skewered and revealed for their spinelessness.
Erin Mallon’s Middle C is the unexpected emotional heart of WIT Fest. What opens with suggestions of a story about surveillance and obsolete technology, becomes a heartfelt final visit between a piano teacher (Erin DeWard) and her prize student (Emily Ma), exploring the complications of human connection.
Diving more explicitly into the theme of surveillance, and moving from the inside of an apartment to the hallway outside, Georgina Escobar’s Rigged is a 21st century meet cute starring Joachim Boyle and Yadira De La Riva as neighbors. He is addressing the building superintendent, talking into the unseen CCTV camera for reasons that aren’t explicitly revealed. She drops her keys down the trash chute while recording a social media livestream to her unseen followers. There is something incomplete about Rigged. It remains on the surface during moments that reach for depth. Perhaps it is beginning to scratch at themes and plot points that want to be explored in a fuller length production, or perhaps it is simply incomplete.
The final play, Eliza Bent’s In Service of Memory, returns to the opening commentary on our current state of both public health and American theatre. It leans into wordplay, repetition and absurdity as Natalie Nankervis and Joachim Boyle’s characters continually welcome the audience to a memorial service that never quite begins, as they get repetitively distracted by their own trains of thought and word association.
Notwithstanding a few odd cuts, the video production by Courtney Smith sustains the viewing experience. The choice of slides and sounds used to segue between plays, along with the use of various camera angles within each play, supports the goal of creating a hybrid theatre production.
Taken as a whole, WIT Fest is a strong presentation, even if each individual short is not necessarily as solid as the one that precedes or follows it. It’s a lovely way to spend an hour and leaves you with a range of things to ponder and discuss.
Runs until 18 March 2022 | Photo Credit: Kaaron Briscoe