Sexual politics upend a 29th birthday party
|Stage Left Theatre presents|
Review by Lawrence Bommer
The elegant bar room where Bella spends her 29th birthday party soon becomes a sexual epicenter on a dark and stormy night: Gender politics exposes the participants and their pasts. British playwright Nina Raine’s 2006 drama, a hit at Trafalgar Studios, delivers a forensic showdown between some dubious friends who break apart along sexual lines, indulging in brutally explicit putdowns of their partisans. (Achilles heel-fighting abounds, exploiting the opponent’s weaknesses, since all is presumably fair in the war between the sexes.)
Endowed with impeccable accents by Dialect Coach Jason Fleece, Elly Green’s crisp staging delivers all the shock effects of Raine’s detonating dialogue, leaving, as does the author, the audience to draw its own conclusions and complete the conversation.
Brittle and lacerating chums too clever for their comfort, the five guests begin with Bella (Kate Black-Spence), a control-freak p.r. promoter whose main goal is to not become her mom (and whose dad is dying of brain cancer, leaving her without the male authority figure on whom she’s too dependent).
Bella imprudently invited two former and maybe future boyfriends to this dour birthday do. These are acerbic barrister/author Richard (Dennis William Grimes), an Alpha male with an enormous sense of sexual entitlement, and the comparatively milder Tom (Nicholas Harazin), a financier whose liaison with Bella becomes the sport of these catty gamesters. (Both have “snogged” Bella, so they’re supposedly experts on her inner soul…)
Protecting Bella by attacking Richard is his outspoken nemesis Sandy (spitfire Dana Black), a rival author who prates incessantly about sex because she’s much less secure about love. The final friend is Emily (Melanie Derleth), a physician who finds herself caught in the crossfire but who can entertain them with the details of a live operation.
Appearing in Bella’s mind and memories is her dad (Sean Sinitski), a looming loss who attacks his “Rabbit” for offering only words as he’s dying. We realize that her father’s demise will plunge Bella into a pointless search for a replacement she doesn’t need.
The debate between feuding genders breaks no new ground, but it certainly provides grist for the audience’s mill: This play demands post-show editorials that all but come with the territory. Richard condemns women who are “led by their twat.” Sandy rebuts by demeaning men as dogs who must lay their scent everywhere while women are content with making houses into homes and Lotharios into lovers. Men, self-deluding Tom argues, are romantic – when what he describes is really another form of selfishness. Each side indulges in grotesque generalizations, ad hominem attacks, sexual stereotyping, and false equivalences.
But, driven into a corner, they make compelling confessions. For all his patronizing and belittling, Richard sees his writing as fraudulent since he has no “sense of myself.” Even more extreme, Bella delivers a speech near the 100-minute play’s end about the superiority of men that will galvanize every woman in the house and most of the guys. All six performances are focused like lasers on their characters and everything that could give them away or hide their pain.
In effect continuing the controversy embedded in another female playwright’s broadsides–Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls—Nina Raine openly questions how loyal women can be to each other, their ties weakened by male sexual strategies that divide and conquer. To see this play is to take your side.
Rabbit continues through May 26th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $25, and are available by phone (773-975-8150) or online through TheaterWit.org (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at StageLeftTheatre.com. (Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Johnny Knight
behind the scenes
Elly Green (director), Shane Goldbaum-Unger (stage manager), Kristin Steele (production manager), Joe Schermoly (set design), Mac Vaughey (lighting), Brenda Winstead (costumes), Shannon Kirkpatrick (props design), Adam Smith (sound design), Jason Fleece (dialect coach), Emma Deane (asst. lighting), Seam Studios (graphics), Zev Valancy (dramaturg), Johnny Knight (photos)
* denotes Stage Left ensemble member