Conceived and Scripted by Lillian Meredith
Directed by Rachel Karp and Jaki Bradley
Created and Produced by The Living Room
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 6.19.16
IRT Theater, 154 Christopher Street
by Ken Kaissar on 6.8.16
Taylor Shurte, Madison Welterlen, Gabby Sherba, Lillian Meredith, Tamara Del Rosso, Zoe Sophia Garcia in #liberated.
Photo by Jefferson White.
BOTTOM LINE: An earnest story about women reclaiming their sexuality by making their own porn without irony.
Feminism is alive and well and bolder than ever in a new play created by The Living Room, conceived and scripted by Lillian Meredith. #liberated. No, that’s not a tweet. That’s the title of this daring, provocative and highly intelligent play about female objectification.
The story begins with five women on stage performing a Zumba routine. They then adjourn to glasses of wine and Chinese food and an open discussion about the objectification of women in mainstream advertising. And so begins another meeting of the Sister Support Group for the Daily Trials of Being a Woman, aka WIPE. (I’m not gonna lie to you. I have no idea how they got there either.)
Before long, the ladies get into a thought-provoking conversation about why men find it necessary to degrade women when it comes to sex. This leads to an examination of pornography and the members give themselves an assignment: to bring and share a piece of pornography that they find erotic. They are disturbed to learn that on some level they like being objectified and are even turned on by being subjugated.
They wonder if it’s possible to rewire their erotic minds to make themselves the heroines, instead of the objects, of their sexual fantasies. After hearing what they each find sexy, they decide to produce and star in their own porn, bringing their fantasies to life for their own pleasure and gratification. And so they do.
I have to admit that when I learned where the action was going, I was somewhat conflicted. (Okay, you’re right—excited and conflicted.) The idea of women making porn for their own use is inherently an act of feminism. However, by performing this act for a live paying audience in the theatre, aren’t these actors now guilty of objectifying themselves all over again?
The answer is no, and therein lies the true artistry and intelligence of this piece. The porn scenes are tasteful and clever. They manage to frame and communicate the eroticism without making it erotic for the spectator. Watching them create porn was joyful and at times hilarious, but oddly never titillating. I’m not quite sure how they achieved this complicated feat, but I applaud the accomplishment.
As a man, I found this whole conversation fascinating. When else would I get to hear a group of women share their candid views about eroticism and pornography. That’s the beauty of the theatre at work here. And since this entire piece is created, written, directed and performed by women, with nary a man credited in its conception, I feel like I can trust what I’m hearing as honest.
For those of you terrified of encountering live nudity in the theatre, rest assured, you won’t see any body parts onstage that you wouldn’t encounter at a country club swimming pool. The play does eventually include video projections of nudity, but that’s about as shocking as watching Game of Thrones or Orange is the New Black, so let’s not quibble.
Under the direction of Rachel Karp and Jaki Bradley, the cast includes a strong ensemble of six with the chemistry of an acting troupe that has been together for years. No one performer emerges as more important than another. The understated performance of each actor blends together beautifully like the voices of a choir, with no one insisting on taking a solo.
The set design by Frank Oliva is simple but elegant and aesthetically pleasing. It exceeds expectations after a long walk down a drab hallway that takes you to the theater on the third floor of the historic Archive Building. Heather McDevitt Barton’s costume design makes the sexual fantasies colorful and entertaining. This porn delights in the anticipation of the clothing the actors will put on rather than what they take off.
I wish I could tell you that the play ends as lighthearted and jovial as it begins, but alas, it does not, which creates a tonal imbalance in the play’s trajectory. I’m sure there’s a way to solve this issue and keep the breadth of the journey intact, but the solution will have to be uncovered with a little more work and another production. I’m voicing hope here that The Living Room will continue its good work on a piece that has great potential. The play performs at a brisk 90 minutes but only scratches the surface of some of the complicated questions that it broaches. It could easily go for another 30 minutes and offer a deeper exploration of what makes female ownership of sexuality so abhorrent to society. In the meantime, and just to be safe, you should not miss this incarnation of #liberated.
(#liberated plays at IRT Theater, 154 Christopher Street, through June 19, 2016. The running time is 90 minutes without intermission. Performances are Mondays and Wednesdays thru Saturdays at 7:30; Sundays at 3 and 7:30. Tickets are $18 and are available at brownpapertickets.com. For more information visit irttheatre.org.)
#liberated is conceived and scripted by Lillian Meredith, created by The Living Room. Directed by Rachel Karp and Jaki Bradley. Set Design is by Frank Oliva. Costume Design is by Heather McDevitt Barton. Lighting Design is by Scot Gianelli. Sound Design is by Ben Vigus. Stage Manager is Jacob Halpern Weitzman.
The cast is Tamara Del Rosso, Zoe Sophia Garcia, Lillian Meredith, Gabby Sherba, Taylor Shurte and Madison Welterlen.