Once upon a time, a very bad thing happened to Kaballah (Kathleen Alvania), and so as she grew older she turned into a raptor – a carnivorous bird, with razor-sharp claws and a beak capable of cleaning out the entrails of testosteronus pimplus, or the human teenage boy. She wore camouflage combat fatigues and invisible wings, and circled her range (somewhere in the American South), above the cares and frailties of lesser creatures, always prepared to attack, kill and feed.
One day Kaballah met Elise (Tiffany Garfinkle), a young woman who had been fruitlessly struggling to secure the attention of a boy – any boy. Elise begged Kaballah to teach her to become a raptor, too – to rise above the seething hormonal mass of pubescence, and to become a fighter, not a lover. Kaballah agreed, and soon they were flying together, proud and independent of everything, including even the urges of their own bodies.
But Gorgeous Raptors is not the story of either of these young women. It is instead the story of Justin (Yoni Gray), a decent young man who finds himself unable to respond to the love of the fabulously beautiful Zoe (Katie Jeffries) because – she is not a raptor. Justin is in love with raptors.
Playwright Lucy Alibar has made a subtle observation about our society, and a fresh one. Three generations ago we believed that the greatest pleasure a woman could have was in serving and helping a man; a raptor would have scared the bejesus out of most men. But as women gradually won the right to their own pleasures, the perspectives of men adjusted; we now consider assertive women to be erotic – witness Lisbeth Salander in “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “La Femme Nikita.” Like Lisbeth and Nikita, Kaballah and Elise are also vulnerable, which to Justin (and many other men) gives them the full spectrum of eroticism: women who can handle passion and compassion in equal measure.
The single failure of Gorgeous Raptors, in my view, is the periodic side trips that Alibar makes. A three-hour two-act play has plenty of room for subplots; so does an opera or a grand musical; but in a forty-five minute Fringe show, a single focus works best.
Kaballah, who apparently belongs to the only Jewish family in her small Southern town, is compelled, implausibly, to participate in the school’s annual Christmas play (Andrew Ferlo is funny as the play’s frustrated director); we meet Kaballah’s eccentric parents (Jeffries and Christopher Williams); and so on. These subplotettes go nowhere; to the extent they are necessary for the play’s development (the scene presages a visual image at the end of the show, and the session with Kaballah’s parents precedes an important plot revelation) they would be better handled minimally, and without the effort Alibar makes to develop them and make them interesting.
Her principal theme is far more interesting than any of these side trips; I would have liked to know more about how Justin fell in love with raptors, and how that love transformed him.
The producing company, The Disreputables, is a new one, and it has the potential to follow other companies, like Factory 449 and Nu Sass, from the Fringe to a full season of theater. Lee Mikeska Gardner, a veteran director (as well as a superb actor herself), has produced excellent performances from all her young cast, including especially Alvania, Disreputables’ artistic director. Alvania is excruciatingly authentic every moment she is on the stage. In the intimate space of the Fort Fringe Shop, you can see every quiver of emotion her tortured character must register, and Alvania delivers every time.
Half the show’s revenues will be sent on to the DC Rape Crisis Center. Whether or not you attend this show – and I recommend that you do – consider giving a donation to the Crisis Center, which does good work, and could use the cash.
Tim rates this 4 out of a possible 5.