Thursday, January 23, 2014

Row After Row @ New York City Center Stage II

For over 35 years, the Women's Project Theater has placed its focus on producing plays written and directed by women.  Even though an overwhelming 67% of Broadway audiences are female, a mere 20% of those plays produced are written or directed by women (Linda Winer, Newsday). In its history, the WPT has given an outlet for women theatre artists to showcase their talents, in lauded productions as Bethany, How the World Began, and Jackie.

Row After Row begins after the successful reenactment on the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, childhood friends Cal (PJ Sosko) and Tom (Erik Lochtefeld), find "their table" occupied by an unfamiliar face, Leah (Rosie Benton). As Tom kindly invites Leah to share a drink with them, Cal promptly begins a heated debate with Leah that she is challenging their tradition, in both taking their seats and playing a (poorly uniformed) soldier. Action weaves between the present and the battle itself in 1863, showing that women testing their "traditional" roles is no new concept.

Rosie Benton's Leah is the cool-without-trying woman we all probably knew at some point in our lives. Her nose ring, delicately messy hair, and past as a modern dancer, along with the attitude that her life can be whatever she wants to make it, gives her the personality of the effortlessly confident woman so many strive to be. She states that "history is just that, his-story" and why shouldn't she be able to experience it for herself? In a touching monologue, Leah describes playing a soldier as "more fun, and more sad" than she could have ever imagined. Alternately, her 19th century persona disguises herself as a soldier in a plan to "suck the anger-- and hunger-- and homesickness" of each man by kissing each one late each night. Both of these women use their uniquely feminine qualities as tools to defy gender roles.

Although Tom and Cal are best friends, they are the definition of polar opposites. Cal's brash and sometimes chauvinistic attitude is balanced by Tom's soft-spoken nature to keep things as "PC" as possible. These traits are apparent in their past-life characters as well; Cal is the traditionalist general, Tom the deserter. The presence of the mysterious woman in both scenarios have the men questioning their intents and responsibilities.

Jessica Dickey's play, directed by Daniella Topol, has an interesting commentary on social issues that have been present for centuries. We realize feminism is not a new concept, and sometimes all it takes is a chance meeting with the right person to put everything into perspective.
Row After Row  runs through February 16 at the NY City Center's Stage II.  

Photo by: Carol Rosegg

Review by: Kelcie Kosberg

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