See Available Light’s Raw, Incandescent “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.” Through January 27
Alice Birch’s Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. is one of the finest pieces of political art for the current age, leaving jaws slack in acclaimed London and New York runs. It’s hard to imagine a better, more committed, and more nuanced production than it gets from Available Light, directed by Eleni Papaleonardos, running through next weekend at MadLab.
The brilliant seven-member cast – Brian Gray, Adam Humphrey, Beth Josephsen, Shanelle Marie, Kasey Meininger, Gabe Simms, and Dakota Thorn – are on stage the entire time, engaged as cheering or smirking sections when not the focus of action.
The first half of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.features short scenes that satirically highlight the absurdity nestled within our power structures and the ways we interact with one another. These scenes have titles like “Revolutionize the Language (Invert It)” delivered to the audience on handwritten signs, half Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and half announcing the next round in a prize fight. Papaleonardos and the actors have an uncanny sense of the way Birch’s writing gets more specific and drills down to a finer point while spiraling out. This play masters realism and sheds it like skin that shows the observer things about the body they might not be ready to acknowledge.
Every unfolding in this production brings another highlight. Kasey Meininger burns like an emergency flare as she moves between her character’s frustrated inability to get a word in edgewise around Gabe Simms’ character’s ugly, ham-fisted, and reductive seduction into a wild, frenzied, owning of language that treated her as an object. Beth Josephson’s nonplussed engagement-recipient draws huge laughs as she eviscerates Adam Humphrey’s would-be groom as she forces a more specific framing of what he’s asking her amid a hilarious analogy to suicide bombing.
Shanelle Marie and Brian Gray are electric as she makes a more-than-reasonable case for Mondays off – knowing what she wants and what she’s no longer willing to give up. Gray’s manager flails, angrier and angrier, even at her audacity to smile,in his desperate attempt to normalize the trend of an office bringing in the comforts of home as an excuse for employees to never have to go home. Dakota Thorn’s speech at the end of “Revolutionize the Body (Make it Constantly Available Sexually)” that starts with a resigned “I have felt very tired lately” and snowballs, accumulating fury and righteousness, changes the quality of the air in the theatre and pinned me back against my seat.
Papaleonardos has the greatest affinity of any of Columbus’ directors for movement. She understands the communicative property of actors moving through space and with one another better than most artists I’ve ever seen. Her collaborations with choreographer (and dramaturg) Michael Morris and fight choreographer Brian Evans create the physical tapestry that keeps everything here real, human, and grounded even in the dazzling three-ring circus final act. Her production understands the clipped sentences in the title and the way revolution is a constant struggle and responsibility everyone shares.
The set consists of simple tables and chairs, moved into a variety of configurations, with a rack of costumes. This behind-the-scenes look works on multiple levels. That ramshackle appearance gives the audience a false sense of comfort as we let ourselves understand we’re seeing is a practice, isn’t the tank about to roll over us. The ease with which the same minimal props represent an office, a bedroom, a kitchen, reaffirms how little the physical trappings of our surroundings matterin our interactions or our memories. The cast-as-audience and their changing costumes in front of us drive home how easily people switch between roles and implies a world between the often-nameless characters we fleetingly meet.
The simultaneous rich and bare-bones nature of the production and its quick pace means the stage managers deserve extra accolades, Edna Mae Berkey assisted by Marc Weaver. Stephanie Thomson’s lighting dazzles as it balances and highlights the mix of the specific and the general; the delicate-until-it’s-not nature of the play. Keya Myers-Alkire’s sound crystallizes the moments that stab like a stiletto and knows when to lean into the cacophony.
Theatre with a message doesn’t get much better than this. This production of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. is an act of communion between audience and cast. The play works as something both purely entertaining and a reminder that entertainment is never “pure” when it’s worth its salt. Eleni Papaleonardos and Available Light throw the gauntlet down for the rest of their season and the year in Columbus art and I expect the echo of that throwing to ring out from the darkness.
Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. runs through January 27 with shows at 8:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday, January 21. For tickets and more info, visit avltheatre.com/