We Play For The Gods
nytheatre.com review by Mitchell Conway
June 8, 2012
I would say every struggling artist should see the Women’s Project Theater’s brilliant new production We Play for the Gods at Cherry Lane Theatre—but really everyone (artist or no) should go and be moved by this masterful shout to confront what is un-reckoned with.
This play is the product of the 2010-2012 WP Lab, a residency program offering a collaborative creative opportunity to women theatre artists—who remain surprisingly underrepresented in the overall community—coordinated by producing artistic director Julie Crosby.
The play happens one day at the May Institute, a research facility focusing on the properties of tears, where four women’s lives come to the brink. As each has a personal crisis, they try to keep it together and function at their work, but the environment itself, as a result of their inner turmoil, rebels against them.
The trickster-muse Provocatrix, powerfully and playfully rendered by Alexandra Henrikson, a product of unacknowledged forces dwelling and swelling, a personification of the energy that informs life, lashes out. The physical relationship of Provocatrix controlling the other women on stage and creating havoc is one of the great delights of this play.
Irene Sofia Lucio slaps herself all over the place as Susan, a recent graduate with an MFA in poetry temping at the May Institute. Lucio’s performance is gorgeous and hilarious; as her Muse acts out radically, we directly witness her inner struggle, attempting to function with her intense creative energy trapped doing telemarketing. She feverishly fills post-it notes with the beautiful phrases that pass by in a day.
Annie Golden calls her mother every couple minutes as Susan’s crotchety supervising secretary Marla.
Meanwhile, Amber Gray sleeps in the lab as the workaholic Simi, a scientist experimenting on the active chemical in tears. We see her excitedly observe blue light glowing in a bowl (lighting by Scott Bolman). She will not let herself cry. In one scene Provocatrix acts as Simi’s boyfriend, with a male voiceover, both actors facing out to the audience. Gray has a stunning feverish presence, spending the whole play on stage, effectively allowing focus to shift while remaining in action.
Simultaneous action, as well as large furniture shifts and other results of Provocatrix’s meddling, are wonderfully coordinated by the directing team Jessi D. Hill, Sarah Rasmussen, Mia Rovegno, and Nicole A. Watson. Jennifer Moeller’s set design is truly exceptional. Having no doors, no windows, just a wall of closets/bathroom stalls, posed an obstacle the directors masterfully confronted. In one moment, a toilet bowl on wheels is pushed onto stage, and Lisa, played by Erika Rolfsrud, flushes her cell phone. A choice like this really speaks to Moeller’s intelligence; there already existed two bathroom stalls on stage, yet to roll and spin the addition toilet yields a sense of gleeful freedom.
From the first scene, where spare electronic music underscores a complex series of desk organizing and test tube pouring, to the space-time bending sounds that accompany Provocatrix’s manipulation of the other characters action, Stowe Nelson’s sound design always feels necessary.
The playwrights, Charity Ballard, Alexandra Collier, Andrea Kuchlewska, Dominique Morisseau, Kristen Palmer, Melisa Tien, and Stefanie Zadravec, have created work that remains unpredictable in its development and focus, entertains immensely, and touches on the disaster of a culture neglecting the wisdom hidden in the old stories.
The finesse of so many fantastic artists armed with a common goal blows the house down, making for a work you should not miss.