Written by Gina Femia; Directed by Blayze Teicher
Presented by Spicy Witch Productions
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 6.1.19
The Flea, 20 Thomas Street
by Emily Cordes on 5.27.19
Sarah Rosengarten, Alia Guidry, Shavana Clarke, and Pearl Shin in
The Virtuous Fall of The Girls From Our Lady of Sorrows. Photo by Phoebe Brooks.
BOTTOM LINE: Catholic schoolgirls explore faith, friendship, and rebellion in this clever coming-of-age story.
Growing up female in a patriarchal world is never easy, and nowhere is this truth more evident than in a Catholic high school, where the twin forces of dogma and social constraint color the already-fraught adolescent experience. Gina Femia’s The Virtuous Fall of The Girls From Our Lady of Sorrows explores these complexities with humor and insight, as an unconventional school project leads six Catholic schoolgirls to bond, rebel, and question the worlds they inhabit.
Set in a Brooklyn parochial school, Virtuous Fall follows its characters through the shaky first months of the 2002 academic year. Freshly grieving the loss of her father on 9/11, aspiring playwright Minnie (Renita Lewis) prepares to stage her senior thesis production, an original sequel to Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure. With help from her best friend Imogene (Alia Guidry) and younger sister Dove (Shavana Clarke), Minnie assembles for the task a ragtag group of peers, including girly-girl Jenny (Sarah Rosengarten), angsty Maxx (Ashil Lee), and wide-eyed freshman Mathilda (Pearl Shin). Under the watchful eye of school principal Sister Ignatius (Mia Canter), the girls’ approach to the material leads them to question the double standards and ethical dilemmas within Shakespeare’s play and their own lives. When administrative backlash tests both the production and their nascent friendships, the girls must choose whether to comply with or challenge the systems that surround them.
Bolstered by an energetic cast, Femia’s characters exude wit and tenderness as they navigate the highs and lows of adolescence. Clever spoofs of authority figures, riffs on pop culture, and awkward facts-of-life discoveries (including a hilarious offstage tampon-insertion scene) pepper the action, as do poignant instances of conflict with gender roles, depression, loss, sexuality, and existential confusion. Nursing a crush on Jenny, Imogene struggles to reconcile her feelings with her faith’s admonitions against them. Maxx’s anger is shown to be a defense mechanism against a world that neither accepts her bisexuality nor sympathizes with her internal conflict. Mathilda, caught between her spiritual convictions and desire to belong, finds herself torn as new friendships take her further away from the innocence and devotion she once knew.
The element of religious oversight adds interesting layers to the girls’ coming-of-age process, bringing both comfort and oppression as they define themselves as women, believers, and individuals. This tension resonates most clearly in private moments of prayer or contemplation: Minnie seeks answers from her equidistant celestial and earthly fathers; Imogene debates her worth before a God posed as both creator and judge; Mathilda finds solace in beliefs inherently structured to limit her. As Ignatius and the school’s various nuns, Canter humorously embodies the mixed messages the girls face, cheering students’ growth while enforcing the very systems that stunt it. Studding the walls of Lindsay Genevieve Fuori’s set, a contained snowfall of white roses forms an apt metaphor for characters’ attempts to thrive within or outgrow their environment's parameters.
Inspired by and running in repertory with Spicy Witch’s Measure For Measure, Virtuous Fall exists in conversation with Shakespeare’s text. Like Minnie’s sequel, Femia’s play expands upon and questions its predecessor, commenting on the antiquated rules and patriarchal culture that keep both relevant in our present day. Despite eons of progress, the same issues remain, and it falls to each generation to define and re-write our collective story.
(The Virtuous Fall of The Girls From Our Lady of Sorrows plays at the Flea Theater, 20 Thomas Street, through June 1, 2019. The running time is 2 hours with an intermission. Runs in rep with Measure for Measure. Performances (of one or the other) are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7; Saturdays at 3 and 7. See website for exact schedule. Tickets are $25 and are available at theflea.org or by calling 212-226-0051. For more information visit spicywitchproductions.com.)
The Virtuous Fall of The Girls From Our Lady of Sorrows is by Gina Femia. Directed by Blayze Teicher. Presented by Spicy Witch Productions. Scenic Design by Lindsay Genevieve Fuori. Graphic Design by Sophie Golomb. Props Design by Megan McQueeney. Costume Design by Noelle Quanci. Lighting Design by Yi-Chung Chen. Sound Design by Carson Joenk. Production Stage Manager is Francis Swanson.
The cast is Mia Canter, Shavana Clarke, Alia Guidry, Ashil Lee, Renita Lewis, Sarah Rosengarten, and Pearl Shin.