“Beware them, as they have pussy power!” Or do they?
This show is a comedy inspired by a tragedy, Greek playwright Euripides’ The Bacchae. In case it has been a while since you last refreshed your memory on the theatrical offerings of Greece in 504 BC, that’s the tragedy in which an angry Dionysus gets revenge by brainwashing the women of Thebes into retreating into the mountains to observe his rituals. He eventually drives the women into such a rage that they rip the King of Thebes into pieces.
Hopefully your memories of January 2017 are a bit more fresh. Or maybe you’re still trying to forget? Either way, the “nasty women” of the show’s title and the pink pussy hatted-Bacchae featured on the show’s promotional material bring to mind the Women’s March of January 21st.
A play inspired by some of theatre’s most furious women, with additional inspiration from a tremendous display of female (and, as character Resistence would note, transgender, lesbian, bisexual, gender-fluid…) solidarity? Yes! Down with the patriarchy! Grrl power!
Except, as it turns out, this isn’t that kind of show. Yes, we meet the women of Dionysus’ Ecstatic Rainbow Mystical Retreat: Resistence (Marketa S. Nicholson), Persistance (Mariel Penberthy), and Yo Mama (Catherine Aselford). But they aren’t exactly powerful riot girls. Instead, they are busy brewing chai tea, leading workshops on meditation, and feasting on vegan foods in their “intentional living community.” In other words, they are stereotyped—humorously stereotyped, but stereotyped– versions of liberal American women.
Nasty Women of the Ecstatic Rainbow Mystical Retreat
closes July 23, 2017
Details and tickets
Their nemesis is Pentheus (Tony Greenberg), the king, who wants to know “what the hell is going on with the traditional male/female social constructs in Thebes?!” With the help of Dion (Danny Rovin), a priest of Dionysus, Pentheus dresses in drag and infiltrates the Ecstatic Rainbow Mystical Retreat with big plans for forcing the women back to Thebes. He intends to put them back in their places so that they can cook, pleasure their men, and look pretty. Instead, he drinks a bit too much of Dion’s wine and ends up in a trippy hallucination in which the women rap (yes, rap) about their oppression and their reasons for escaping to a women’s retreat.
The Guillotine Theatre (formerly the Georgetown Theatre Company) are Fringe veterans, and it shows in the simple staging, minimal but highly effective set and lighting (both uncredited), and acting that is for the most part solid and polished.
If not always laugh-out-loud funny, the play is consistently humorous. Most of that humor comes from the women describing their activities at the retreat. These activities include knitting and yoga, of course, plus Bacchae fans will have a chuckle when it comes to the women’s treatment of cows; let’s just say nobody is tearing bovines up with their bare hands this time. Greenberg and his Cowherd spy (Robert Heinly) earn laughs bumbling about as clueless males who are astonished at women who “be planning, and keeping more than one thought in their heads at a time!”
There are some hiccups that pull you out of the world of the play. The rapping mentioned above is a place where the otherwise polished actors seem under-rehearsed. Also, a couple of characters played by white actors speak in African American Vernacular English, which is jarring, and left this reviewer wondering why the choice was made to cast white actors in those roles.
Overall, though, the show skips along in an entertaining manner…until it comes to an abrupt and unsatisfying end. The deus ex machina ending should probably be blamed on Euripides more than playwright Lisa Alapick or director Shari Lewis, but it is disappointing that with all the show’s potential for pussy power, we never get to see it in action. The women talk about where they come from and what they plan to do, but in the end it’s all talk, no action. Suffice it to say that Pentheus definitely does not have his head ripped from his body. There is no real dramatic climax at all.
In the end, I left the show feeling unclear about its intentions. Were its caricatures of liberal women as tree-posing, chai-swilling, pussy-hat-knitting runaways intended to be vaguely insulting, or did the show set out to be supportive of the Women’s March and all it stands for? Or perhaps it is a satire in which liberal-leaning women are meant to recognize themselves and their flaws? It is unclear. With The Bacchae and the Women’s March, playwright Alapick had some incredibly powerful source material to mine. Although pleasantly amusing, this show ends up feeling like only the tip of the iceberg, with much greater and more meaningful depths left unexplored and undefined.