Alice Birch’s Women Revel in Un-Civil Disobedience
by Kim Waldron
The career woman wants more time off from work. The young girl is forced to marry her rapist. A woman feels trapped by even the idea of married life. Fear of rape. Domestic violence as a family tradition. Everything in “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.” reminds me of another woman I know. British playwright Alice Birch captures the world as it is. Then she issues a manifesto for revolution built on raging humor.
Giant, shiny, copper-colored bricks form a striking high wall across the back of the stage. Women use the immense bricks to punctuate, and occasionally enforce, a feminist realization, whenever it occurs. A Goddess on High uses this wall—as well as her thunder and lightning—to declare her explosive judgement. We are never in danger of missing the point.
Birch presents an achingly funny opening exchange between a woman and man discussing and acting out the sex they are about to have. More than casual banter, their words show how language itself oppresses and betrays. Repeatedly, we see women—some bravely asserting, some bravely trapped and sinking—struggle to handle men’s attempts to shape them. These women are trying to find a response that works. Birch’s biting humor teaches even as it entertains.
The world of “Revolt” becomes steadily less straight-forward, more raging, moving ever faster. If you look away, you might miss the moment when the Church forces a twelve-year-old girl to marry her rapist.
“Revolt” culminates in a chaotic surreal swirl of events that build to a vivid crescendo, thanks to the fine, skilled cast. Karla Acosta, Gabriel Christian, Cat Luedtke, Leigh Rondon-Davis, Soren Santos, and Elissa Beth Stebbins expertly, hilariously play a multitude of roles. First-rate performances by each impressive, imaginative actor. The inspired design comes from Justine Law. Rebecca Novick is the ringmaster of Crowded Fire Theater’s powerful production.
Funny how a year of Trump makes surrealism seem less surreal. I think we may be seeing more and more absurdist plays, trying to outdo current reality.
In its short life since 2014, “Revolt” has won considerable attention for its intense, disquieting grocery store and family picnic scenes. In the grocery, a woman lies down and gets naked in the dairy aisle. She answers the two male managers’ objections with a searing monologue describing, owning, and then ceding her body. At the picnic, three generations of women converse, trying to make sense of motherhood and their heredity of cruelty.
I won’t forget the rape minuet. Legal authorities perform a courteous and assiduous minuet with rape victims, dancing around the evidence and refusing to file rape charges.
Birch’s script calls for no assigned lines by character—words and actions can be performed by any of several characters. Even the number of characters is left open. All of this is to be worked out by the creative team where it is performed, providing a call for another kind of revolution for the theater world. It works.
Like “well-behaved women,” well-behaved plays seldom make history. “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.” is destined to be remembered.
“Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.” by Alice Birch, directed by Rebecca Novick, at Crowded Fire Theater, at Portrero Stage, 1695 18th Street, San Francisco, through Saturday, March 24, 2018. Info: crowdedfire.org
Cast: Karla Acosta, Gabriel Christian, Cat Luedtke, Leigh Rondon-Davis, Soren Santos, and Elissa Beth Stebbins.
Banner Photo: Soren Santos and Elissa Beth Stebbins.