It’s an image as ancient and archetypal as Medea and La Llorona, and as modern as Andrea Yates—a woman, a mother, standing over the bodies of her drowned children. From this shocking visual, which goes against every culturally constructed narrative of how and why a giver of life should behave, local playwright Amanda Zeitler begins her deconstruction of maternal filicide—or the murder of children by their mothers—and humanity’s morbid fascination with the subject. The result is Weep., currently being given its world premiere by Nu Sass Productions, a play that raises a lot of interesting and important questions, but ultimately left me wanting more.
At the center of Weep. is a heinous act—the drowning of Marina’s (Boneza Valdez Hanchock) two children. When the police arrive to her home, they find Marina standing over the bathtub; yet, she forcefully tells her court-appointed public defender, Andy (Carolyn Kashner), that she didn’t do the ghastly thing of which she’s being accused. On top of being handed the biggest case of her career, Andy has a lot going on at home as she tries to navigate a new pregnancy and the concerns of her husband, Jude (Drew Cannady), who also happens to be her former law professor.
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Adding to the stress of the situation is that, as expected, such a sensational case has drawn a bonanza of media attention and public outcry. Included in this fray is Simone (Pauline Lamb), the Sarah Koenig-esque host of a true crime podcast called Crossroads: At the Intersection of Folklore and Reality, which was a surprise hit in its first season. Simone is looking to replicate that success with Season 2, which will focus on the previously mentioned mythical murderers from ancient Greek and Latin American folklore and their real-life, contemporary counterparts. As she posts bail and becomes friends with Marina, things only get more complicated for Andy.
Kaye has assembled a talented foursome of actors to bring this script to life and does a deft job of utilizing the intimate Caos on F space. With the audience sitting on either side of Aubri’s O’Connor’s versatile set and in close proximity to the actors, we are thrust into the goings-on in the same way rubber-neckers are constantly inserting themselves into a particularly salacious trial. It’s a nifty trick that when Lamb’s Simone recites the Crossroads narration with the dryness of a standard-issue true crime podcaster, she does so while maintaining direct eye contact with members of the audience, tearing down the remove that allows us to consume endless tales of real-life woe as guiltlessly as we watch a multi-cam sitcom.
Valdez Hanchock is engaging from the first time she speaks, embodying a stirring mix of tough and tender, outraged and bereaved. As Andy, Kashner’s archness when first meeting with her client mellows into something more lived-in, but still defiant, when tussling with her husband over whether she’s working too hard or having one small drink without causing harm to life growing inside her. Some of the strongest moments between Kashner and Cannady are when they’re dispassionately discussing heinous crimes in terms of lawyerly career achievements rather than human tragedies—Drew’s assertion that “there will be other murders” calls to mind the callous ways the doctors on Grey’s Anatomy fight over the toughest surgeries, with little regard for the patients themselves.
Weep. closes March 14, 2020. DCTS details and tickets
Unfortunately, like Grey’s Anatomy, the central character of Weep. is perhaps the least compelling of the bunch. As the audience cypher, we get a lot of insight into Andy’s feelings about her career, her complicated relationship with pregnancy, and the messy origins of her marriage. But this comes at the expense of the rest of the characters. For example, we get glimpses into Marina’s backstory, but only insomuch as it relates to the death of her children. I found myself wanting to know more about this woman and who she was before the worst day of her life.
This goes double for Simone—while it’s a credit to Lamb’s talents that she can convey more with a well-timed scoff than many other actors can with a soliloquy, hers is easily the least fleshed-out character. Aside from a quick mention of a tragic event from her past, we don’t get any real insight into Simone’s life, interior or exterior. What made her start the podcast in the first place, declaring as she does early on that she doesn’t consider herself a journalist? What toll does profiling and befriending Marina take on her? What kind of home and family does she return to at the end of the night? Without any of these details filled in, Simone feels more like a device for exposition and the highlighting of themes than a fully formed human being. The fact that these two characters are specifically written as women of color, in contrast to Andy’s whiteness, makes their lightness even more disappointing.
Wanting more was the general theme of the evening for me. Zeitler does a brilliant job of raising some fascinating questions about gender, justice, and dominant cultural narratives—but at 70 minutes, Weep. feels more like the strong first act of a longer piece. It’s in the final scenes, when Andy and Drew’s complicated past comes crashing into their present, that I found myself most hooked into their relationship. And the final twist, while intriguing in its own right, left me deeply curious about how each of the characters would go on to respond to it, and to the entirety of the case in general. It’s a credit to the playwright that she has created a world in which I wish to continue inhabiting; but, ultimately, I left feeling somewhat unsatisfied.
Weep. is sure to spark a myriad of important and uncomfortable conversations, and Zeitler’s thought-provoking reframing of the Medea and La Llorona stories as tales of mercy rather than revenge is truly thought-provoking. While Weep. isn’t a perfect play, it does signal the emergence of a promising local talent and I can’t wait to see what Zeitler—and Nu Sass—have in store next for DC audiences.
Weep. by Amanda Zeitler. Directed by Bess Kaye. Featuring: Carolyn Kashner, Boneza Valdez Hanchock, Pauline Lamb, and Drew Cannady. Lighting designer: Lauren Gallup. Sound designer: Seoyoung Kim. Costume designers: Aubri O’Connor and Nina Howe-Goldstein. Set designer, props, and producer: Aubri O’Connor. Stage manager: Charles Lasky. Produced by Nu Sass Productions. Reviewed by John Bavoso.
Nu Sass’s production of Weep. is the culmination of 8 years of development and is being mounted as part of the 2020/2021 Jubilee Festival, a yearlong, nationwide theatre festival dedicated to amplifying marginalized voices through theatre.
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