On one level, Alice Birch’s weirdly named and audacious play, which has opened at Soho Rep, presents five vignettes of familiar every-day encounters:
- a man and a woman graphically flirting
- a couple arguing over getting married
- an employer objecting to an employee’s request to take off Mondays
- store staff confronting a misbehaving customer
- a dysfunctional family reunion that gets out of hand
The sixth scene we cannot even pretend to be everyday, and the seventh feels like anti-climax, but the first five are hilariously spot-on about the ways in which men and women talk to one another.
On another level, though, these scenes are fierce, feverish, full of rage, at times revolting — as in: off-putting; grotesque — at other times a revolt – as in: insight meant to incite, a feminist’s call to revolution. That’s in the very title of the play — “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again” — and also in the projected titles before each scene: “REVOLUTIONIZE THE LANGUAGE. (INVERT IT),” “REVOLUTIONIZE THE WORLD. (DO NOT MARRY),” and so on.
Now, “revolution” may be one of the most overused and misused words in the avant-garde lexicon, and there are one or two other in-your-face elements in “Revolt” that are less shocking than annoying after several decades of deployment. (There is a moment, albeit brief, of bloody self-mutilation.) But in this first of her plays to come to America, the 29-year-old British playwright establishes her exquisite ear and her distinctive voice from the very first scene.
In that first scene, the unnamed male character (portrayed by Daniel Abeles) begins by courting the unnamed female character (Molly Bernard) with some old-fashioned phrases (“I don’t understand how you do what you do to me”), supposed compliments tinged with a patronizing scent (“You are a Brilliant Bright Bright thing”) before smoothly launching into a graphic verbal seduction. At first the woman tries to make normal conversation, but she’s drawn into a subtle form of combat when he has told her of his fantasy of “making love to you.”
Here is the exchange that follows, brought to life by the two actors:
– No or
– There Is no Or – there is no other option
– Yes but
– I want to make Love to you
– Or: With?
– With you – make love – I want to make love With you
Later he says: “And kissing you, I want to kiss you – With you, I want to kiss with
He ratchets up the sexual talk. She responds in kind, adopting an aggressive male language for her female body…which freaks the man out, turning him almost shy. This is very cleverly done, increasingly funny – and deeply pointed.
In all of the vignettes, we don’t learn exactly what’s going on at first; in the best of them, the language keeps us engaged and the unfolding satisfies.
In the sixth scene, which is the longest one (or at least feels that way) of the hour-long play, it is never terribly clear what’s going on. The effect feels akin to a mash-up of the last ten pages of James Joyce’s Ulysses with Warhol shooter Valerie Solanas’s SCUM manifesto with the cacophony of “Revolution 9” from the Beatles White Album with the last song of a heavy metal concert where they smash their guitars into their amps – all of this while the four cast members sit on folding chairs, although Abeles does paint his face with lipstick, and there is even some stage smoke. There are some moments even here that stand out, such as an extended bit in which men answer the (implicit) question: Are you a feminist?
“Absolutely. I mean, as a father of a girl – how could I not be?…. I’m married to a woman, how could I not be?….I’ve got a mother haven’t I? ….Naturally, I walk past women all the time….I’ve seen a woman before. Round things. Absolutely I support the round ones. 100%.”
This progression/regression is of course heightened and deliberately ridiculous, but as funny as it is, there is in it– as in most of “Revolt – an unsettling ring of truth
Click on any photograph by Julieta Cervantes to see it enlarged
Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.
Soho Rep (46 Walker St)
Written by Alice Birch
Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
Cast: Daniel Abeles, Molly Bernard, Eboni Booth, Jennifer Ikeda
Sets by Adam Rigg, lights by Yi Zhao, costumes by Kaye Voyce, sound by Palmer Hefferan, props by George Hoffmann and Greg Kozatek, projection by Hannah Wasileski, fight choreography by J. David Brimmer.
Running time: 65 minutes with no intermission
Tickets 35-55 until May 1, $45-$65 May 3-15
Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. Is scheduled to run through May 15
Update: Revolt has been extended to May 22.